The young and the old

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Like when you’re out and you get that sense that someone’s eyes are on you but when you turn around, there’s no one there? I do and it drives me crazy. I don’t like people staring at me; it makes me feel self-conscious and I can’t relax when I get that feeling.

Of course most of it’s in my head but I’ve caught people staring at me before, so it’s not always my imagination. Sometimes it’s girls (occasionally guys) and it’s funny seeing their heads jerk away when I look back, suddenly interested in a speck on the wall. πŸ˜‰ I don’t mind that as much but what I really don’t like is when people just stare for no reason.

Yesterday I had an appointment and I had to wait a while before I was seen. So I did what I normally do; I took out a notepad and started working through some ideas. After about two minutes I got that feeling and sure enough, several people were just staring at me. Not people-watching like some do, just openly staring. In the end I ignored it but when I got back home it still bothered me. It felt like they were staring at me because I was somehow out of place, and it bothered me more later than at the time.

Most of the people were older than me and I think that was part of it. Usually I don’t feel like my age is an issue with people but every now and then it is. All through school I could talk to people without them knowing my age but when they found out, suddenly my opinions didn’t have the same weight. I’ve had people doubt my age in my writing (and this blog) because I don’t sound my age when I write. And previously I’ve been told that I think too much; I should just go out, have fun and be 23. Well, what’s to say I’m not? This is who I am and if I were any different, I wouldn’t be me.

I dislike ageism with a passion. What I’ve always found interesting, though, is that most definitions of ageism describe it as discriminating against the elderly. I don’t disagree with that but to me ageism can be against any age group and we often overlook the presumptions we make about youth as well. Yes, some young people can be disrespectful, but not all of us. We’re the iPod generation but most of us study and work just as hard as anyone else. Plus we have the added pressure of trying to find homes and jobs (often for the first time) in a global market which has changed so much since 9/11. Ageism can go both ways but not everyone remembers that.

A few years ago something happened to me which is just one example. I’d been shopping with my mother and we were waiting to get the bus back home when a man (about 70) came up from nowhere and shouted at me, struck me across the shoulder and head as he brushed past, and left muttering insults about youth under his breath. I’d done nothing and was well out of his way; he targeted me, but what I remember most is that only a few people noticed. If I’d done it I’d have been up on assault charges; he did it, and for some reason I must have had it coming. If that’s not ageism, I don’t know what is.

It’s strange the way we ignore young people. We look at youth as the future; we say we want to teach them and prepare them for life, but often it’s an excuse to shape them the way we want. We crush them of their individuality and make them conform, and soon see all young people the same way. But who’s to say we really know what’s best? There’s a case in Wyoming at the moment where three 13 year old girls threw french fries during their lunch at school. The police have subsequently charged them with “hurling missiles”, an adult charge. Hurling missiles… have you ever heard anything more ridiculous? They deserve disciplining but if you give kids a criminal record for a food fight, you’ll be doing it to every kid in school. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and it’s based on the fact that people try to control children, not understand them.

My personal view is that age is irrelevant; I get on well with people of many ages and what’s important to me is mutual respect. If someone is interested in talking to me, sharing their thoughts, that’s all I’ve ever needed. It’s something people underestimate about children as well, that sometimes they just want to be engaged and have a say in things. I think Katherine Hepburn said it best: “I have no romantic feelings about age. Either you are interesting at any age or you are not.” Isn’t that so true? You either find someone interesting or you don’t; in the end, that’s all the matters, not age or anything else.

So maybe I should be flattered when someone stares at me. They obviously find me interesting in some way… even if it does feel like a scientist dissecting a rat! Maybe next time I’ll say something. Who knows, perhaps I’ll find someone to talk to, or at least will be able to write in peace… on the other hand, I’ll be 30 before I know it. Maybe then they’ll leave me alone and all I’ll have to worry about is baldness. πŸ™‚

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10 thoughts on “The young and the old

  1. i hate being stared at too. the worst kind are those when you know they are staring at you and you turn around to look at them so they’d stop staring at you but instead they keep on staring and now it makes it look like i was caught staring!! or maybe they really weren’t staring at me but in my direction and i’m just super paranoid. or MAYBE they’re exploiting my paranoia seeing as how uncomfortable i get when people stare at me… lol.

    and yes, sometimes i feel people don’t respect what i’ve got to say due to my age. and old people get away more with saying something rude to younger people than if it were vice versa.

    CJ: It’s uncomfortable when that happens, isn’t it? It’s like you don’t know where to look and you just keep shrinking back as they stare at you… usually I just stare back now and try to psyche them out but I don’t think it’s ever worked!

    I’ve always looked and sounded older than my age, so that’s what really annoys me, that one moment someone can be listening to me and the next just tune me out. But I guess it’s out of our control to change how someone sees us… oh well, at least it’s good material for our shrinks one day! πŸ™‚

  2. Good post. As someone who is older I often blog about the kind of ageism you describe as it relates to older people. I agree 100% with your observation that it can also run in reverse towards younger people. This is a very intricate subject and you are one of the few I have seen approach it from this point of view. It took me until I was in my early 50s to realize that I had been ageist about hiring older employees when I was younger. But then I soon realized that I had become ageist about hiring younger employees because I was now older.

    It was only then that I realized that most people don’t understand that ageism is a problem. People are beginning to become more conscious about ageism and ageist statements about older people. But it’s an uphill battle and I believe that the ageism you talk about it is an ever steeper hill. Maybe people will recognize ageism towards the young once they grasp the reality of ageism towards older people. It’s unfortunate that it can’t happen in tandem but the concept of “earning the right” has been around forever and I think a lot of older people who went through that phase feel that all younger people should still go through it. I’m not making excuses for older people treating younger people this way but I hear a lot of people my age say something like “I earned my dues, why should I cut younger people any slack?” Then they go on to bitch about younger people showing no respect, and of course are just as guilty about showing no respect back.

    I really like your statement “You either find someone interesting or you don’t; in the end, that’s all the matters, not age or anything else.” I hope you live to see the day that becomes a universally accepted norm but I doubt I will and I’m hoping for at least another 25 years or so on this earth.

    CJ: Hi savvyboomer, thanks for the comment and for your perspective. I dislike all forms of ageism and try to respect anyone regardless of age, but I do get frustrated by the way people continue to perpetuate these stereotypes about youth (and older people as well). It’s too easy to put someone into a box and say because they’re one thing, they must be like everyone else; the reality is that we’re all unique and by classifying someone as being this or that, it makes it much easier to discriminate against them.

    I’m not sure what it would take for attitudes to change but I think you’re right, because not many people see ageism as a problem it’s always going to be an uphill battle… perhaps in the end it might be that when my generation is older, we’ll remember and do our best to change the attitude towards all forms of ageism.

    Whether I’ll see it happen, I’m not sure… I imagine there will always be some form of ageism, just as there will be some forms of racism and sexism. But I’d like to think that over time attitudes will change, so I guess we’ll just wait and see. Thanks for your kind words and for stopping by.

  3. Okay son that old bugger hit you with his walking stick and your readers may be interested to know that when I called the police later to complain about the angst the overcrowded bus area was causing they said it was assault and he could have been charged.
    Imagine if we had found him and took him to court…6’2″ of young man with everything ahead of him to 5’10” of poor old bastard with visible disability…sorry still annoyed … it would have helped my fury some but the perception is always different.

    CJ: I do remember the police saying that, so it was good to know they took it seriously. Assault is still assault, after all… what really bothered me, though, was that there were at least thirty people near us and maybe only five or six of them looked surprised. If it had been the other way round I know more people would have reacted. It feels like a double-standard and that actually bothers me more than what happened.

    Yeah, I can just imagine how that would have gone… we’d probably have ended up paying damages! Unless Denny Crane had defended us. Then we might have had a chance. πŸ˜‰

  4. wow, you’re 6 feet 2?? damn, you’re tall! πŸ˜›

    CJ: That’s me, the 6’2″ giant! It’s great being able to see the cinema screen, but I don’t like getting hit by tree branches much, though. πŸ˜‰

  5. Fascinating post, cj. When I was a child I used to hate it when relatives would pat me on the head and ask me questions about my toys, or even worse, if I’d been good! I was old for my age, too, and have always worked and studied with people of different ages. I was a choir director when I was 16, and was able to handle a group of people from 12-76. Because of my experiences, I try very hard to speak respectfully to even very little children, and not treat them like idiots.
    savvyboomer made a great point about the sense of entitlement some “seniors” have. I surely hope I won’t ever feel that way. I’d rather look at every day as new and fresh, and an opportunity to engage with a marvelous human being, of whatever age, who is here now.
    As for people staring at you, well, you are an unusual being, cj, and I’m not talking about the way you look, (although that’s fine!) but I think you exude intelligence and sophistication and people pick up on that.
    And, Magik Quilter, you’re a hoot! Must run in the family. πŸ˜‰

    CJ: I know just what you mean, Muse… being patted on the head used to annoy me so much! A few times I told people to stop it, that I’m not a dog, but they never seemed to listen. πŸ˜•

    For a while last year I ran a book group and a writing group and what I found interesting was seeing how their interactions with me varied. The book group was usually fine, but with the writing group some could get quite hostile; often it felt like because I was young, I couldn’t know as much about writing as they did. But I had more experience than most of them combined and it definitely goes along with that feeling of entitlement. It made the group unsustainable in the end and I found it sad; writing should teach someone about life, but instead they twisted it to suit their individual views.

    It could be that about the staring… I’ve always liked being my own person, so I guess my confidence and style might attract a few stares. Or perhaps they’re just looking at my huge nose. Yeah, probably that. πŸ™‚

  6. People stare at me alot too.
    It’s probably because I’m a little “strange” but I really can’t help that. -shruggs-

    I have alot of problems and if I’m talking about some of them with someone a bit older than me, they don’t take me seriously. They just think I’m just some average teenager just complaining about not getting their way. They just blow off my problems because “You’re still a baby” I’m not a baby I’m almost a 20 year old woman who has real issues.

    My ma thinks that respect should only be given to older people, and that kids should just follow orders no matter what they are, and never question them, and never voice their opinion. And that’s not true either. I’m just as important as she is and I do agree that you should be respectful to older people you should also be respectful to younger people too.

    Alot of younger kids mainly girls come and talk to me about alot of things. I don’t know why but they do. I guess because I really listen to them, I try to give them good advice and not act like I’m their parent and frown upon everything they say.

    I’m talking too much now. Good post though love πŸ™‚

    People may stare because you probably do look out of place lol. But it’s not always a bad thing to be your own person. Some people just have a sense of uniqueness about them and you capture attention even though your not trying to. πŸ™‚

    CJ: That’s interesting that some of the kids approach you about different things. When I was in school a few of the kids used to do the same; it kind of flattered me and scared me at the same time, that they would respect me that much, and that I might give them the wrong advice. That says a lot about you, that you’re willing to listen and try and help them… a lot of people would just brush them off.

    And respect is definitely something which should go both ways. I mean, younger people will turn into the leaders of the world in the next decade or so. Most of them won’t be much different in ideology or their beliefs than they are now, so what changes in those ten years that makes people respect them? Nothing except their own perceptions. Perhaps respect should be something you earn to some degree, with responsibility, but people need to keep an open mind as well. I think that’s the main problem; once someone has made up their mind, it’s almost impossible to change it.

    That could be it about the staring… I try to keep to myself and probably seem a little different to what people expect, so maybe I draw attention without meaning to. Sounds like it’s similar for you too. Perhaps we should try to be flattered when they stare at us, eh? Hopefully it means they see something they like! πŸ™‚

  7. I have been in the grocery store in the past standing in line waiting to check out. I could have swore someone was standing behind me in line and when I turned around to look there was no one. (This is in relation to your opening sentence)

    As far as people staring, I knew a girl that I always thought stared at me and I would complain about it to an aunt. My aunt assured me that she was not staring she was daydreaming. Years later, I became very good friends with the girl and realized that my aunt was probably right. Now that I knew her I could understand her better.
    I think people are staring when they look you up and down (then they are definitely observing you) but if they are staring straight at you, I believe they are daydreaming. Maybe something about you prompted a daydream. An older person looks at you and remembers what it was like to be young, or a girl looks at you and wonders what type of person you are or if you would relate to her. Okay, enough with my ramblings, but I thought I would try and help you see it in a different light.

    CJ: That’s interesting, Maribeth, I hadn’t thought about it like that. I got the feeling that most of them were staring at me in the up and down way, trying to work out why I was there. But I know what you mean about daydreaming, I’ve had that happen a couple of times. At first it seems like someone’s being rude and staring right through you, but it’s more like they’re reminded of something by you, and you’re not what they’re focused on at all.

    I actually find that quite disconcerting; there’s nowhere you can look to get away from it. But at least when that happens you know it’s a compliment, so I don’t mind it as much; I’d much rather have that than someone judging me. And if it’s a cute girl, that helps as well. πŸ™‚

    So you’re like that in the grocery store too? I always feel like there’s someone behind me, or someone’s standing a little too close. Strangely it often happens right before someone’s phone goes off… maybe it’s a sense? I’ll have to think about that at some stage. Thanks for your perspective; it’s always good to see things in a different light. πŸ˜‰

  8. Oh, your poor, maligned nose! Just because it wouldn’t allow you to drink from a teeny little glass it has to take all this flak! I have “thunk” since I last responded to this very interesting post. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments, too. So, we find out you are a tall fellow. Do you think this played a part all your life in people thinking you were older than you are? People of any age would literally look up to you. Were you always tall for your age? I was. While I’m not quite of your stature, cj, I was born “taller” than average, and always was, all through school. Some kids are small or of normal size and then suddenly “shoot up” in adolescence. Not me. From my ages 5-16, in my class there were always the tallest boy and the tallest girl, and they were always the same two people, one of which was me. I am now grateful I’m tall, and I suppose I always was, but there was a time when I felt gawky and uncoordinated. But it did give me stature in the community, and I’m wondering if it did that for you? In the book I’m reading, Blink, the author states that a survey has revealed that an astonishing percentage of top executives are over 6 ft. tall. I don’t think companies consciously set out to hire only tall people for the top jobs, yet these folks apparently have an advantage over their shorter fellows. Perhaps people associate you with that adult executive quality when they meet you, then, as in the writers’ and book groups, feel somewhat betrayed to find out you’re young. Somehow, they feel duped and can’t give you the respect you deserve. It’s too bad your abilities are not allowed to speak for themselves!

    CJ: OK, I’ll stop blaming the nose. You’re right, it’s not my nose’s fault it’s huge. It’s my parents’. πŸ™‚ I have always been quite tall, Muse. My father is actually taller than I am, but right through school I was one of the taller kids. A bit like you, I never had a large growth spurt, I was just always “taller”… I liked being tall, but I’ve always been reasonably uncoordinated as well, so I guess it has both its blessings and curses.

    Whether it gave me unwanted stature or not, I’m not sure. I’ve never really felt like someone has had to look up at me as I tend to bring myself to their level, but perhaps subconsciously that’s a part of it… certainly taller people are often perceived as being more powerful, and so perhaps people use my age against me as they can’t use their height for intimidation. But it’s brought as much respect as envy; height represents security, so people often trust me with things that they don’t trust other people with. That might just be my nature, but I’m sure my height leaves an impression as well.

    Interesting that a lot of executives are tall… I’ve noticed that as well. I put it down to the fact that a lot of tall people (particularly men) feel uncoordinated and so are drawn more toward mental activities like math and science than physical ones, and that leads them into executive positions later on in life. Perhaps their height leaves more of an impression when they’re being interviewed than someone who is shorter; they’re more easily remembered, and that’s an advantage. That’s probably true in everyday life as well; someone like Clive Owen leaves more of an impression on me in a movie than Tom Cruise, for instance.

    I’ll have to think about that; I’ve never really considered how height impacts other people, but that’s an interesting idea. Thanks, Muse; some good food for thought there. And I’ll definitely have to check out Blink. Sounds like my kind of book. πŸ˜‰

  9. and what about people who are shorter than the average height? 😦 i have to alter all the pants i buy, and i cross my fingers every time i go to the cinema that someone like chris doesn’t sit in front of me. πŸ˜› i’m mostly fine being small though; i don’t try to compensate by wearing ridiculously high heels. in fact i love wearing ballet flats!

    haha, went a bit off-tangent there.

    CJ: Well, FWIW I sit at the back of the cinema so people can see! But I know a lot of people don’t think about that kind of thing, so I sympathise.

    Some of my friends are reasonably short and they have the same trouble with clothes. But one advantage they have that I don’t is they can blend in more easily; I always stand out from the crowd. And if you look at a lot of the great performers, they tend to be of shorter stature; it’s hard to dance when you’re tall, as I know. πŸ™‚

    So like anything, height has its advantages and disadvantages… it’s really just using what you have that counts. And don’t worry, I love it when you go off-tangent! You wouldn’t be sulz if we didn’t expect the unexpected. πŸ˜‰

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