So ... I was talking with a friend the other day – it does not matter who it was – but let it suffice to say he is someone who has been working in, and contributing to, this field of ours for more than 40 years – and now, as he settles into what we might in a finer moment call retirement, he is having some experiences he never expected to have: isolation and marginalization within the field.
As he told me of his experience, he was not whining or complaining: just reflecting on his experience of ‘being older’ – and he commented on how some of the younger people he encounters in our field – professional Child and Youth Care Workers, not kids – seem to give him (as he experiences it) the “Yah, sure, old guy, but what do you know” attitude. He feels that he is being told that because he is older, he has nothing relevant to say. The kids that he meets, he says, seem more ready to treat him as ‘normal’ than some of the professionals.
I would like to say that his experience seems to be limited to a specific area of our field, but his experience is that it is generalized – to direct care workers, academics, trainers, and all.
Ouch, that hits close to home as I approach 60 myself – thinking about how one might, in a helping field, experience rejection of self because of a not-so-subtle age-ism. Ah, I know that life is not always filled with fine experiences. But, I ask myself, in my field??!! Then I remembered how my own mentor had a similar experience. So, yes, I guess, in my field!
I shared with my friend my first experience of working with the Cree of Northern Quebec and how they seemed pleased with the fact that I was older – for in their culture age is associated with possible wisdom. So when we first met, they were relieved that I was not a young puppy from the south full of ideas and lacking in experience.
How differently our various cultures relate to the characteristics of an individual.
So, why is it, I wondered – as I sat in admiration of this person and his history, the knowledge and wisdom of experience he had to offer – that just because he has ‘aged’ he is not seen as a source of relevant wisdom, or at least of knowledge and experience? Yet, if we go back far enough ... there is our awe of those who have come before us in this field. So what is this in-between place where, still living, we experience isolation and marginalization? It is somehow as if, once a person has died, we can draw their knowledge closer, without having to take in the person. Does knowledge and experience need time to ferment before it rises to relevance? Is it because after a person is dead we can pick and choose?
And as always it led me to thinking about kids – so often isolated and marginalized – characterized because of their age, left to drift without a sense of connection and engagement. Different ‘isms’ but with the same outcome.