By Poppy Cumming-Spain
It’s always puzzled me that we think that things like wine, cheese, and meat get better with age, but we don’t apply the same to humans. Why is wine better once it’s stewed for a while? Or meat better when it’s been hung and dried? Yet a human which has had years of experience and effort put in is just out of date. At least to me, this just doesn’t make sense.
A few weeks ago, we were given an inspiring talk by Tony Brignull. He is the most awarded copywriter in advertising, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we were in awe of him. The thing is that Tony is also in his eighties, and to any stranger who saw him on his journey to meet us he would just be an ‘old man’.
It seems to me that when you get to a certain age your identity is stripped away from you. Never mind any awards, medals, character, or wit, you just become ‘old’. And that’s because we forget, or perhaps ignore, that all of the people we cluster under generic terms like ‘elderly’ and ‘senior’ are all interesting individuals. They’ve got feelings, desires, regrets, fears and a lot to say for themselves. But because beauty brands, the media, and society have told us that being ‘old’ is not cool and certainly not sexy, we’re disgusted by the concept of aging. To tell you the truth, I think we’re scared of it. And that means we disregard, or worse silence, people who are aging.
I’d urge anyone who sees old age as a reason to ignore or avoid someone to stop this immediately because you’re missing out big time. Over the past few months, I’ve been working with some great charities who are combating elderly loneliness (Contact the Elderly and South London Cares) and it’s honestly the best thing I’ve ever done. The people I’ve spent time with have been more kind, genuine and interesting than anyone else I’ve met before. I’ve actually had some of the best fun I’ve ever had with them. They have relevant and important stories to tell and so much wisdom to pass on. They’ve taught me so much about life, work, relationships and more; and earned my respect and admiration within minutes of meeting them. If I wasn’t certain before, these experiences have confirmed that age is just a number. And the value that comes from disregarding age, rather than the aging, is undeniable; not least as a creative working on briefs which are targeting ‘old people’.
So, the next time you go to scoff at your grandparents for being a bit slow or roll your eyes because they don’t understand how to use their phone, take a minute to consider what it might feel like to be treated this way; like you’re irrelevant and outdated. Imagine what it would be like to be told that your opinion was no longer important. Because one day you’ll be old and your children, or grandchildren, will be doing the same to you, and you’ll regret these times you acted so foolishly, wishing you’d respected your elders.
P.s. I couldn’t write this SCAB without a little plug for South London Cares. I’m running 5K dressed as Father Christmas on 6th December to fundraise for them so that they can help more young and old friends come together. Please donate anything you can here.