Since sensitivity to personal identity and identity politics is front and center these days, what do you think are the best ways to refer to people over 55? Old people? Elders? Seniors? Something else?
– Marlene Q.
Start with a very simple label that could never offend: adults. We are adults! That’s it. It is really that simple.
In some cultures, and even in the United States, many moons ago, calling people “seniors” was a sign of respect for their age and achievements. When you are on the planet that long, you experience more, thus you learn more. So being a senior was “cool.”
Then in the late 50s the industrial age unfurled, post two world wars. The prized attributes of great respect changed from experience and wisdom to what we now typecast as the Mad Men era’s version of “hip”, which grew unchecked in every media sector. Adults strove to be the perfect couple, perfect wife or husband, perfect parent. Education, medicine, and science began offering women a glimpse of what might be a way into the perfected world toward which we were told to aspire.
The American Dream seemed in reach for the many, which meant it was “in” to strive and compete so to up-level to the desirable middle class, or beyond. Being a young, white, male on the move became the door opener. Being a senior was not so hip anymore. Old age fell into both the accepted medical and social services models as a “disease.”
In the 1960s being over the age of 30 was a sign of being untrustworthy; the mantra of those days was “question authority.” This coupled with the rising predominance of modern medicine and advances in beauty science, which created an age-phobic culture in the United States.
I have never heard an American Baby Boomer say, “Please call me a senior.” The 21st century older adults are NOT seniors. If you market to them using this word, for example, they are not going to bite.
I like the word “elder,” but the truth is that we are not all elders as we get older. “Elder” connotes wisdom and having a certain social role, and that is not something everyone gains with the passage of time.
Those who have the capacity to hold that space between time and timeless are Ageless Elders. My intention is to guide, educate, convene, and illuminate the way forward to Agelessness for all seekers at any age of life or in whatever life stage or cycle.
In truth, we are all, in the end, just human beings, and age is just a number. When possible, I encourage people to speak in ways that highlight the whole person we are, showing up with the assets (gifts, talents, and skill set) we have at every stage of life.