Time speeds up
A year represents less perceived time to someone in their 90s than it does to someone in their teens. You can see how time accelerates as we get older in this interactive visualization by Maximilian Keiner.
Keiner argues that to human beings, the first 18 years of life seem just as long as the remaining 70. Until we reach the end, most of our meaningful existence is in our youth. Think of all the older people in the world—teachers, bankers, generals, Supreme Court justices. Most of what they’ve experienced comes from their youth.
Ageism is not from ignorance
If youth contains most of who we are, how is it that many of us can feel such prejudice towards young people?
We’ve all been young for most (or all) of our perceived lives. No one can really be ignorant about youth, any more than we can be ignorant about a job we’ve held for most of our lives. This is why I find it so ridiculous whenever anyone claims to be a “youth expert” or a “child expert.” To me, this would be like calling yourself a “human expert” or a “life expert.”
Ageism is that special kind of prejudice that comes not from ignorance, but from too much familiarity. It’s like an unhealthy relationship. Instead of learning to live in peace with youth, many people decide to abuse and antagonize it. This is a terrible mistake. Youth is—and always will be—the most essential part of us.
Esteem for youth is self-esteem
The way we feel about youth is a direct measure of the way we feel about ourselves. Ageism is a form of self-degradation, if not outright self-hatred. Consider our friends and relatives who are most critical of young people. If we know them well enough, we can easily see their real motives. By criticizing young people, they’re really acting out their own feelings of inadequacy.
Most people in our society experience youth as a state of frustration and powerlessness. We spend our whole adult lives trying to get away from this powerlessness, to find control. Many of us don’t succeed. We can move away from home, get married, have children we can boss around, and buy home surveillance systems. Even after all that, many of us don’t feel any more in control than we did as children.
Ageism is a form of immaturity
When we fail repeatedly to feel “grown-up,” we have to settle for faking it. We use ageism to counterfeit an adult identity. At a certain age we can get a fake passport and pass ourselves off as intelligent and powerful people. Everybody we show our passport to recognizes it as a fake. But by unspoken agreement, nobody exposes us. We are all impostors—often bad impostors at that. No one wants to blow anyone else’s cover, for fear of getting their own cover blown. We need our support network of liars. Without it, many of us could not pretend to be much more adult than we were when we were young.
Ultimately, dependence on ageism is a form of immaturity. It’s the attitude that young people are totally different from older people—a lesser species. Keiner’s model shows that people who think this way are like closeted homophobes. They are not only guilty of intolerance towards others, but also of self-delusion and cowardice.
We have such precious little time on this planet. And yet people waste so much of it on projects that can’t possibly do anyone any good. Projects like defending corporal punishment or boredom in school. Most of us learned in childhood that wasting time is ok. It’s alright that childhood feels useless, unpleasant, and endless. That’s the way life is. Only we forget that life isn’t endless. Life puts on the gas, speeds towards the edge of a cliff. We need every second if we’re going to get anything meaningful out of the experience.