Every once in a while I seem to be drawn back to the issue of ageism. I guess
that the fact that I shall be 70 at the end of the year has something to do with
Though, thank heavens, I am both physically and mentally fit, and do
not suffer from any out of the ordinary health problems, my social surroundings
(in addition to my mirror) do not let me forget for a moment that I am no longer
The other day I received a phone call from a “Natali” representative.
Natali is a private health-service provider.
One of the services it
provides is distress buttons, which are very important for those who are
disabled, chronically ill, and living alone. I am sure that sometime in the
future I shall start considering having one installed, but it is I who shall
decide when the time is right – not some pushy salesperson.
irritation of being the target of an uninvited sales promotion, there were two
additional problems with the phone call I received from Natali. The first was
the mere fact that they had received my name from somewhere. There are several
possible sources for such information: the population registry (of which an
illegal copy appears to be floating around), the Social Security Institute, the
health funds, and the municipality. I didn’t allow any of these to hand over my
name and date of birth to any commercial body.
If Natali and other
businesses want to publicize their services for senior citizens, they can do so
in the media and on the Internet, or post an advertisement in one of the
official publications that are sent out to senior citizens with useful
The second problem was that the person who called, spoke to
me as if I were an imbecile. As usual in such situations I reacted quite
aggressively. Unfortunately, I am very familiar with this phenomenon, which I
first experienced several days after being mandatorily sent off to retirement at
the age of 67.
I came to the Knesset for some administrative
arrangements, and one of the ushers gave me a wide smile, reserved for old
dears, and said loudly and slowly “o-h y-o-u l-o-o-k w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l.” I felt
like answering: “I have only retired, not gone senile and deaf. Besides, you
look awful – you are 20 kilos overweight, and look old for your age.”
only blurted out the first half of the sentence… The phenomenon continued with
such comments as: "w-h-at a-r-e y-o-u d-o-i-n-g w-i-t-h y-o-u-s-e-l-f t-h-e-s-e-
d-a-ys?” My answer: “Teaching, writing, translating, helping build a database
for the Botanical Gardens, and spending more time than before with my
granddaughters.” What I do not add is “most of which you are probably incapable
of doing yourself.”
The worst part came when a colleague from the Knesset
Research and Information Center said to me “it is wonderful to hear you talking
the way you used to talk before.”
“I have retired,” I answered, “not lost
my wits, or started to stutter. In fact, now that I am no longer a civil servant
I can also speak my mind, and you, my dear friend, are infected with ageism and
A DOCUMENTARY shown last week on TV Channel 8 dealt with the
phenomenon of “stereotype embodiment” in older people. Stereotype embodiment
suggests that explicit and implicit age-based stereotyping frequently causes its
subjects to develop the physical and mental characteristics of the stereotype.
Experiments appear to bear this out.
The conclusion is that the sort of
conduct that I described above, besides being an insult to one’s being and
intelligence, can have harmful physical and mental effects, unless one actively
But there is more to the outrageous phenomenon of
I have already written in the past against the mandatory
retirement age. Many people, who reach their 60s are more than ready to retire,
but many are not. In my immediate family no one retired before the age of 80. In
a recent article in one of the economic dailies, someone suggested that it
should not be left to the individual to decide when he or she retires, since
older people are inclined to act like a “headless nail,” and at a certain age
people should be forced to retire to make room for the younger
I wrote to the article’s author that it is better to be a
“headless nail” than a “thorn in the butt,” adding that besides her insulting
stereotyping of senior citizens, she seemed to be ignorant of elementary
According to the logic that she offered, we should not only
force older people to retire, irrespective of the psychological and other
negative effects that this might have on them, but also encourage the haredim
and Arabs to remain outside the work force, since this will leave more jobs
available for the non-haredi Jewish younger generation.
Of course, that
is absolute nonsense. It is elementary economics that the more people are
gainfully employed, the greater the priming and accelerating effects on the
economy. Certainly I contributed more to the economy in the past when my
disposable income from a salary was NIS 5,000 more than it is today, when the
state pays me (in the form of a pension and national security) more than the
average family income, for doing nothing.
In fact, I occasionally still
earn a bit here and there, but most of the work I do (and it is professional
work, such as writing this column) is voluntary. Someone could be earning a good
salary for this work, but as long as there are people like myself around to do
it for free, these jobs are simply not created.
The answer might be: so
stop working. I see – you don’t want me to work for a salary, and you don’t want
me to work for free. But this runs counter to a current government- funded TV
commercial, which encourages senior citizens to volunteer.
retire your experience need not retire with you,” is the message behind the
AND WHAT will happen when the aging of the population (we are
already over 10 percent of the population) will result in serious actuary
problems for the pension funds, and the government will no longer be able to
provide the minimal services that it still provides its senior citizens? The
whole basis for how the state and the society treat its senior citizens will
have to change. This will mean a change in the economic approach, as well as in
the psychological approach. The economic approach will have to address the fact
that physically and mentally able senior citizens should be encouraged to
continue to be gainfully employed.
But more importantly, the phenomenon
of ageism must be addressed with all seriousness, not only by means of well
meaning but naïve commercials, but through the education system and social
networks – for a start.The writer is a former Knesset employee.