On having the time of our lives

Sep 15 2006 by Janet Howd Print This Article

According to a survey published earlier this month, seven out of ten bosses in Britain see no value in employing older workers and some are even trying to dump older staff ahead of the introduction of new anti-discrimination legislation in October.

Even though half the population of Western Europe nowadays remains fit and active for twenty-five years or more beyond retirement age, the belief that final years will be spent "sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything" is still commonplace.

Read on in "As You Like It" , however, and you'll find that no sooner are those words out of Jaques' mouth than Shakespeare rebuts his vision of old age by bringing onto the stage an octogenarian who is alert, astute and personable despite being exhausted from aiding his young master's night long and desperate flight from danger through dense forest.

Unfortunately, no player's entrance, however evocative, can compete with words inked on a page. Negative views strongly expressed inevitably overwhelm positive views timidly presented and by giving his counter argument no voice Shakespeare gave it no teeth.

To make the new laws on ageism work, our task must be to explode the vast minefields of negative words set up over centuries which deter all of us Ė never mind bosses - from staying in touch with people who live in life's hinterland.

"Oh come off it. Words aren't that powerful," I hear you say.

Well...let's think for a moment about one syllable that produced a seismic shift in cultural attitudes during the last thirty-five years.

No matter how much we may regret its loss: the short word "gay" (unceremoniously hoiked out of all its other dictionary definitions) betokened a change in attitudes that led to society's acceptance of behaviour which would formerly have led to a jail sentence.

Consider an even more improbable vocal wind of change during the past 35 years: men no longer whistle at women in the street. Stemming the flow of that demeaning sound helped to promote feminism.

The changes that appropriate language made with respect to homosexuality and feminism benefited only minority groups. Changes that appropriate language will make with respect to ageing are going to affect us all.

We must give thoughtful consideration to what constitutes ageist language and replace it in e-mails, documents, cards, articles, books, letters and conversations with words that express the vitality and connectedness of people who are simply getting on with having the time of their lives.

If we do that successfully, bosses will soon be falling over themselves to take on such valuable employees.

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About The Author

Janet Howd
Janet Howd

Janet Howd is a voice coach who works with corporate, academic, legal, theatrical and private clients in the UK, North America, Australia and Europe.