Words DO matter. There are reminders of the power of words all around us. Think of the way extreme words were slung around during the last election. Or don’t think of it. Let’s start off the new year on a constructive note by changing the words we use to describe older people.
Last week a middle-aged man called me “Dear.” Twice. He let me go ahead of him in the coffee line in a hospital (“After you, Dear.”) and then again when I was leaving (“You have a Happy New Year, Dear.”). I smiled, nodded and wondered what it was that prompted him to call me “Dear.” “Honey” would have been offensive, too, but at least it doesn’t sound like a term reserved for the elderly. I made my way to my sister’s room, where the nurse was calling her “My Dear.” I would like to believe the term is part of the hospital’s employee training program but I doubt it.
That was the second time recently I’ve been reminded of the words we use for our elders. Friday I met a man—40-something, father of two—who knew my husband’s family. I assumed he was friends with Bill’s sister but it turned out his father was friends with her. I was a generation off. He is my daughter’s contemporary, not mine. It took a while to get over my confusion (“Wait a minute! I could be his mother!”). At least he didn’t call me “Dear.”
When I was a little kid, I spent hours listening to my great aunts talking about how they didn’t feel as old as they were. Looking back, I think they were all in their fifties then. I thought the ancient old dears were deluding themselves. Now I shake my head at how young they were.
In cranky conclusion, 2017 will be a better year in a small way if we think twice before addressing women over 60 as Sweetheart, Ma’am, Honey, My Dear or Dearie.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!