Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Am I Stereotyping the Elderly or just being Polite?


I must admit that I have never considered stereotypes regarding age until just recently when I was forced to consider them. When taking the time to consider if I myself have participated in the perpetuation of any of these stereotypes I realize that in my attempt to be respectful of my elders, I indeed might have. When I encounter a person considered my elder I try and go out of my way to "do the heavy lifting" because well, they are old and it is has been my belief that it is my responsibility to take on that burden because of my youth. Upon forced retrospect, I am beginning to wonder if this act of "politeness" on my part is in actuality rude and moreover a form of ageism.

On many occasions, I have toted my kids to the supermarket for my mid-morning grocery run and upon completion of payment I have been asked by the elderly baggers in the checkout line if I would like to have help out to my car. A simple request that many would simply say yes or no to without a second thought, right? This however is not the case for me. I have never thought about why the thought of accepting help with something as simple as my groceries fills me with such guilt and feelings of pity; after careful thought I believe a great deal of my feelings come from my very traditional Hispanic upbringing.

In the Hispanic culture you are taught that you must take care of your elders. As a member of the younger Hispanic culture you are never allowed to disagree with the members of the older generation regardless of their level of wrongness. You are never allowed to get annoyed with their rudeness or their unequivocal meanness, but most importantly you are never allowed to let your elder do any type of hard work or task that would require them to exert any type of strength or energy for that matter. In the Hispanic culture, your elders have earned the right because of their age to sit on the sidelines and watch everyone do the work while they call out the orders. This type of behavior on my part and that of my elders has always been the norm.

After reading about the aging process and the theories that may extend and shorten the lifespan I realize that our cultures thoughts about being respectful of our elders may indeed be partially the reasons why Hispanics as a culture have a shorter life span than some other races. Health in the Later Years written by Armeda F. Ferrini and Rebecca L. Ferrini states that "[a] higher level of physical activity also is associated with a lower death rate, not only from heart disease but from all causes of mortality. The higher the degree of fitness, the lower is the risk of death. Even individuals who increase their activity level in midlife can realize a significant reduction in death rate" (Ferrini 35). Unfortunately for our culture this is the exact opposite of what is expected of our elders. In my opinion, Hispanics become less active, oftentimes in midlife, and follow that slippery slope of a sedentary lifestyle as they age. I am now starting to believe that we as the younger generation of our Hispanic culture should initiate more activities for our elders instead of just allowing them to be spectators to everyone else.

As for me personally, I believe I need to take a closer look at my actions in regards to the elder population because in my attempts to show respect and be polite I might actually be offending. The elderly should not automatically be considered frail because they are partaking in physical activity, I see now that they might actually be enjoying the activities they are performing; neither pity nor guilt should automatically be felt because an elder is performing a physical activity in the workforce. So in an effort for me to start changing my ways of thinking about the elderly, the next time one of the friendly seniors working as Publix baggers asks me if I would like help with my groceries I think I will "politely" say, "Yes!"


Ferrini, A. F., PhD., & Ferrini, R. L., MD, MPH. (2008). Biologic Aging Theories and Longevity. In Health in the Later Years (Fourth Edition ed., pp. 28-49). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.