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  • What's one thing that every person in this room is going to become?

  • Older.

  • And most of us are scared stiff at the prospect.

  • How does that word make you feel?

  • I used to feel the same way.

  • What was I most worried about?

  • Ending up drooling in some grim institutional hallway.

  • And then I learned that only four percent of older Americans

  • are living in nursing homes,

  • and the percentage is dropping.

  • What else was I worried about?

  • Dementia.

  • Turns out that most of us can think just fine to the end.

  • Dementia rates are dropping, too.

  • The real epidemic is anxiety over memory loss.

  • (Laughter)

  • I also figured that old people were depressed

  • because they were old and they were going to die soon.

  • (Laughter)

  • It turns out that the longer people live,

  • the less they fear dying,

  • and that people are happiest at the beginnings and the end of their lives.

  • It's called the U-curve of happiness,

  • and it's been borne out by dozens of studies around the world.

  • You don't have to be a Buddhist or a billionaire.

  • The curve is a function of the way aging itself affects the brain.

  • So I started feeling a lot better about getting older,

  • and I started obsessing about why so few people know these things.

  • The reason is ageism:

  • discrimination and stereotyping on the basis of age.

  • We experience it anytime someone assumes we're too old for something,

  • instead of finding out who we are and what we're capable of,

  • or too young.

  • Ageism cuts both ways.

  • All -isms are socially constructed ideas -- racism, sexism, homophobia --

  • and that means we make them up,

  • and they can change over time.

  • All these prejudices pit us against each other

  • to maintain the status quo,

  • like auto workers in the US competing against auto workers in Mexico

  • instead of organizing for better wages.

  • (Applause)

  • We know it's not OK to allocate resources by race or by sex.

  • Why should it be OK to weigh the needs of the young against the old?

  • All prejudice relies on "othering" -- seeing a group of people

  • as other than ourselves:

  • other race, other religion, other nationality.

  • The strange thing about ageism:

  • that other is us.

  • Ageism feeds on denial -- our reluctance to acknowledge

  • that we are going to become that older person.

  • It's denial when we try to pass for younger

  • or when we believe in anti-aging products,

  • or when we feel like our bodies are betraying us,

  • simply because they are changing.

  • Why on earth do we stop celebrating the ability to adapt and grow

  • as we move through life?

  • Why should aging well mean struggling to look and move

  • like younger versions of ourselves?

  • It's embarrassing to be called out as older

  • until we quit being embarrassed about it,

  • and it's not healthy to go through life dreading our futures.

  • The sooner we get off this hamster wheel of age denial,

  • the better off we are.

  • Stereotypes are always a mistake, of course,

  • but especially when it comes to age,

  • because the longer we live,

  • the more different from one another we become.

  • Right? Think about it.

  • And yet, we tend to think of everyone in a retirement home

  • as the same age: old --

  • (Laughter)

  • when they can span four decades.

  • Can you imagine thinking that way about a group of people

  • between the ages of 20 and 60?

  • When you get to a party, do you head for people your own age?

  • Have you ever grumbled about entitled millennials?

  • Have you ever rejected a haircut or a relationship or an outing

  • because it's not age-appropriate?

  • For adults, there's no such thing.

  • All these behaviors are ageist.

  • We all do them,

  • and we can't challenge bias unless we're aware of it.

  • Nobody's born ageist,

  • but it starts at early childhood,

  • around the same time attitudes towards race and gender start to form,

  • because negative messages about late life bombard us

  • from the media and popular culture at every turn.

  • Right? Wrinkles are ugly.

  • Old people are pathetic.

  • It's sad to be old.

  • Look at Hollywood.

  • A survey of recent Best Picture nominations

  • found that only 12 percent of speaking or named characters

  • were age 60 and up,

  • and many of them were portrayed as impaired.

  • Older people can be the most ageist of all,

  • because we've had a lifetime to internalize these messages

  • and we've never thought to challenge them.

  • I had to acknowledge it

  • and stop colluding.

  • "Senior moment" quips, for example:

  • I stopped making them when it dawned on me

  • that when I lost the car keys in high school,

  • I didn't call it a "junior moment."

  • (Laughter)

  • I stopped blaming my sore knee on being 64.

  • My other knee doesn't hurt,

  • and it's just as old.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • We are all worried about some aspect of getting older,

  • whether running out of money,

  • getting sick, ending up alone,

  • and those fears are legitimate and real.

  • But what never dawns on most of us

  • is that the experience of reaching old age

  • can be better or worse depending on the culture

  • in which it takes place.

  • It is not having a vagina that makes life harder for women.

  • It's sexism.

  • (Applause)

  • It's not loving a man that makes life harder for gay guys.

  • It's homophobia.

  • And it is not the passage of time that makes getting older

  • so much harder than it has to be.

  • It is ageism.

  • When labels are hard to read

  • or there's no handrail

  • or we can't open the damn jar,

  • we blame ourselves,

  • our failure to age successfully,

  • instead of the ageism that makes those natural transitions shameful

  • and the discrimination that makes those barriers acceptable.

  • You can't make money off satisfaction,

  • but shame and fear create markets,

  • and capitalism always needs new markets.

  • Who says wrinkles are ugly?

  • The multi-billion-dollar skin care industry.

  • Who says perimenopause and low T and mild cognitive impairment

  • are medical conditions?

  • The trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry.

  • (Cheers)

  • The more clearly we see these forces at work,

  • the easier it is to come up with alternative, more positive

  • and more accurate narratives.

  • Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured.

  • It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.

  • Changing the culture is a tall order, I know that, but culture is fluid.

  • Look at how much the position of women has changed in my lifetime

  • or the incredible strides that the gay rights movement

  • has made in just a few decades, right?

  • (Applause)

  • Look at gender.

  • We used to think of it as a binary, male or female,

  • and now we understand it's a spectrum.

  • It is high time to ditch the old-young binary, too.

  • There is no line in the sand between old and young,

  • after which it's all downhill.

  • And the longer we wait to challenge that idea,

  • the more damage it does to ourselves and our place in the world,

  • like in the workforce, where age discrimination is rampant.

  • In Silicon Valley, engineers are getting Botoxed and hair-plugged

  • before key interviews --

  • and these are skilled white men in their 30s,

  • so imagine the effects further down the food chain.

  • (Laughter)

  • The personal and economic consequences are devastating.

  • Not one stereotype about older workers holds up under scrutiny.

  • Companies aren't adaptable and creative because their employees are young;

  • they're adaptable and creative despite it.

  • Companies --

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • We know that diverse companies aren't just better places to work;

  • they work better.

  • And just like race and sex, age is a criterion for diversity.

  • A growing body of fascinating research

  • shows that attitudes towards aging

  • affect how our minds and bodies function at the cellular level.

  • When we talk to older people like this (Speaks more loudly)

  • or call them "sweetie" or "young lady" --

  • it's called elderspeak --

  • they appear to instantly age,

  • walking and talking less competently.

  • People with more positive feelings towards aging

  • walk faster,

  • they do better on memory tests,

  • they heal quicker, and they live longer.

  • Even with brains full of plaques and tangles,

  • some people stayed sharp to the end.

  • What did they have in common?

  • A sense of purpose.

  • And what's the biggest obstacle to having a sense of purpose in late life?

  • A culture that tells us that getting older means shuffling offstage.

  • That's why the World Health Organization is developing

  • a global anti-ageism initiative

  • to extend not just life span but health span.

  • Women experience the double whammy

  • of ageism and sexism,

  • so we experience aging differently.

  • There's a double standard at work here -- shocker --

  • (Laughter)

  • the notion that aging enhances men and devalues women.

  • Women reinforce this double standard when we compete to stay young,

  • another punishing and losing proposition.

  • Does any woman in this room really believe

  • that she is a lesser version --

  • less interesting, less fun in bed, less valuable --

  • than the woman she once was?

  • This discrimination affects our health,

  • our well-being and our income,

  • and the effects add up over time.

  • They are further compounded by race and by class,

  • which is why, everywhere in the world,

  • the poorest of the poor are old women of color.

  • What's the takeaway from that map?

  • By 2050, one out of five of us,

  • almost two billion people,

  • will be age 60 and up.

  • Longevity is a fundamental hallmark of human progress.

  • All these older people represent a vast unprecedented and untapped market.

  • And yet, capitalism and urbanization have propelled age bias

  • into every corner of the globe,

  • from Switzerland, where elders fare the best,

  • to Afghanistan, which sits at the bottom of the Global AgeWatch Index.

  • Half of the world's countries aren't mentioned on that list

  • because we don't bother to collect data on millions of people

  • because they're no longer young.

  • Almost two-thirds of people over 60 around the world

  • say they have trouble accessing healthcare.

  • Almost three-quarters say their income doesn't cover basic services

  • like food, water, electricity, and decent housing.

  • Is this the world we want our children, who may well live to be a hundred,

  • to inherit?

  • Everyone -- all ages, all genders, all nationalities --

  • is old or future-old,

  • and unless we put an end to it, ageism will oppress us all.

  • And that makes it a perfect target for collective advocacy.

  • Why add another -ism to the list when so many, racism in particular,

  • call out for action?

  • Here's the thing:

  • we don't have to choose.

  • When we make the world a better place to grow old in,

  • we make it a better place in which to be from somewhere else,

  • to have a disability,

  • to be queer, to be non-rich, to be non-white.

  • And when we show up at all ages for whatever cause matters most to us --

  • save the whales, save the democracy --

  • we not only make that effort more effective,

  • we dismantle ageism in the process.

  • Longevity is here to stay.

  • A movement to end ageism is underway.

  • I'm in it, and I hope you will join me.

  • (Applause and cheers)

  • Thank you. Let's do it! Let's do it!

  • (Applause)