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Blubaugh: The last socially acceptable prejudice

I was shopping at a local department store with my kids the other day when it came time to pay. I owed like $67.

The youthful cashier couldn’t have been nicer. She told me I’d receive 10% off if I applied for the store credit card. I usually say no to such offers, but I was in no rush and, hey, $6 is a couple of cups of coffee, right?

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So I applied, got my discount and was getting ready to leave when she started giving me more information about my new account, noting that if I didn’t want to wait for the bill to arrive in the mail I could pay online, that their app is great and I could just download it. She followed that with ...

“Maybe your kids could help you.”

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Excuse me?

I looked up ready to laugh, thinking she was joking. She wasn’t. She was trying to be helpful, telling the old guy that his middle-schoolers could assist him with this technology known as an app that he probably has never heard of.

I felt like I’d been OK, Boomer’d.

I wanted to say I was using laptops at work before you were born, putting together a pretty impressive Napster library when you were in diapers, purchasing smartphones — yes, with apps — before you could even spell “application.”

I didn’t, of course, because she clearly meant nothing by it. (Plus, that would’ve made me sound really old.)

But I left that store certain of two things. One, the ravages of aging must be taking a toll on me. And, two, ageism really is alive and well and practiced by those who have no idea they are engaging in stereotypes and discrimination.

This is mere conjecture, of course, but based on my limited interaction with the cashier, I’m guessing she would never, ever make a comment that would in any way offend a person based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or physical appearance. In her mind, none of that would factor into whether the customer was capable of downloading and using an app.

But old folks? That’s different.

OK, gramps, let me youthsplain it to you.

(Yes, I fully recognize the irony and perhaps idiocy of a white male writing about this subject given how much discrimination my demographic has been and continues to be responsible for. And yes, my generation is ridiculously dismissive of millennials. Very fair points.)

The cashier was smart, polite and well-meaning. I was a bit taken aback by the implications of her comment, but not offended and I left the store chuckling.

But while this might’ve been kind of a laughing matter, ageism isn’t.

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Alana Officer, leader of the World Health Organization’s global campaign against ageism, is quoted in a 2019 New York Times article as calling it "an incredibly prevalent and insidious problem.”

The article went on to say that scientists are finding ageist beliefs in kids by age 3 or 4 and that stereotypes can wind up having serious negative affects on older people’s health and function — that those who see aging in positive terms are more likely to recover from a disabling event, eat better, exercise and live longer while being less prone to depression.

It noted what I’ve always found, too — that ageism is the last socially acceptable prejudice. Plenty of “hilarious” age jokes on TV and in memes on social media make it seem OK to bring that type of behavior into the home or workplace. (I’ve absolutely been guilty. Hey, I wasn’t always this old.)

It’s not just jokes, though, it’s an attitude, and it’s dangerous. It can crush people’s sense of worth. It could wind up taking a toll on Medicare and Social Security. It costs experienced workers jobs every day and hurts them in their search for new employment.

Of course, “old age” doesn’t disqualify Americans for all jobs. Our president is 73. The top contenders for the Democratic nomination are 78, 77 and 70.

My resume might not look great right now, but I could age in to being a serious White House contender by about 2044. I’ll have to ask my kids how I can get the word out on social media.

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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