There were four of us in the pub. I was explaining to the other three how the Fuss Free Phones service makes life easy for older people. I explained how it is designed for those who have not grown up with mobile technology. I explained our mantra of “Old not stupid”, that our customers often had been judges, architects and had other demanding jobs but that didn’t mean they should have to know about megahertz and pixels.
And then “the thing” happened. One of the people turned to me and said “Why do you always look at me when you say ‘old people’”.
I was flummoxed. I took a breath, upset at having upset a mate and said ‘because I was taking to you”. I made light of it and we moved on.
But it rankled.
So much I pondered it as I cycled back to the Fuss Free Phones office. And it dawned on me, with his mock offence at being singled out as The Old One he was wrong and so was I. We were both treating age as A Bad Thing. Ignoring the trite “It’s better than the alternative”, old age isn’t a bad thing, it’s a strangely western thing to think so. In many cultures old age automatically confers respect. You might argue that respect has to be earned but in a new setting, giving respect to the oldest person in the room is a good place to start.
A friend who does focus group research once told me that in Japan he had to make sure that all the people in the group were of roughly the same age because if someone was much older than the rest, the whole group would defer to the opinion of the older person.
This is a much healthier way to treat getting older.