Ageless Empathy

Since the world is facing a major crisis right now, let’s take a break on lenses and pixels and stick with the letters and words.

There is so much to talk about the coronavirus outbreak. The fears, the facts, the precautionary actions, the economic impact, toilet paper… I mean, these days will be in the history books.

Yet I want to just take a few paragraphs to talk about something that bothers me quite a bit.

People are reacting in different ways and that’s actually a good thing, to keep the balance. A worrier can make a laid back more careful; a relaxed one can calm an anxious one. But whether people are panicking, ultra relaxed or somewhere in the middle about the whole issue, I believe it is a good idea to avoid sentences like “relax, if you’re young and healthy you’ll be ok”, “it’s bad mostly to the elderly”, or “only old people or those with underlying diseases should be worried.”

Yes, I know, this seems true for this COVID-19. It’s great relief that kids seem to be in good shape for that one. Most older adults and people with immunity issues know they are at higher risk and have to be extra careful. But here’s the problem with that discourse:

Firstly, young and healthy people can transmit the virus to others. So we are all connected – even if keeping distance – and together in this, whatever the age or health status.

Secondly, how does it make the older and sicker folks feel when reading or hearing that? It’s like saying they don’t matter that much. That everything will be fine as long as the majority, the young, the healthy ones are ok.

It horrified me to hear that there may be cases where doctors will have to choose to treat a younger and therefore more likely to survive person instead of an elderly person. That is so heartbreaking. I understand the survival of the species instincts kick in, and giving chances to those with better odds and still a lot to live is a natural choice. But still, it shouldn’t have to come to that. If you’re here, alive, you still have a lot to give, a lot to learn. There should be room for everyone to be treated, especially in countries that carry first world status.

Ok, let’s avoid the depressing Sophie’s choice stuff and go back to the current common discourse… Is that ageism? Because that is a problem already big enough in a society that falsely believes that people’s abilities and contributions come with an expiration date. Does vast experience weigh less than being a social media influencer on a resume? Companies that massively replace loyal longtime employees with younger and less expensive workforce, instead of keeping a healthy and diverse mix of wisdom and innovation at the office, are missing out on the benefits of such collaboration.

I remember doing a phone interview for a job I didn’t really want and the second question asked was “how old are you?”

Yep. And being older than 45 at the time, guess if I got a call back? Well, probably fair to say I was even less thrilled about the interview after that and probably did not impress them with my subsequent lack of enthusiasm. Yet, I am pretty sure that was not for them to ask. Anyway, I see it as dodging a bullet and a future jackass of a boss.

Back to the virus…

If one wants to calm others or themselves down, they don’t need to aggravate the fear that the elderly and fragile people already feel as a way to minimize their own. It may look like bringing others down is a way to feel high, installing a sense of self security by assuring that other less important ones will take the bullet and all is well.

Chances are you love an elderly person, or someone with an underlying or autoimmune disease. I do. And I am getting close myself at 52. One day, you too will BE like them. And who knows what challenges the planet will face then?

The Golden Rule sounds like a good idea to me. Sunset is the beautiful golden hour, isn’t it? Let’s go for the gold then and not make the seasoned or struggling folks feel alone, shall we?

And don’t forget to wash your hands well. Take care!

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