Fulfilled living in later life
Ageing Gratefully

Monday 13th May 2024

Ageing Gratefully

Louise Morse

I have a weird confession to make: I like standing while travelling on the underground trains in London. As long as the train’s not jammed and I’m not sardined under the armpit of a tall stranger, I like the rhythm of the train under my feet. It also feels freer than being squashed hip to hip in the seating. But if someone offers me his or her seat I accept with a smile and a big thank you, because I want them to know I appreciate their kindness. And I want them to be encouraged to offer others their seat in the future, too. So how confusing is it that a judge at an employment tribunal ruled that offering a seat to an older employee could count as age discrimination? It means that any employer who offers a chair to elderly workers, and not their younger peers, could be breaking equality laws as the older person could 'legitimately conclude' they were being treated 'disadvantageously'.

The ruling came after an employee was provided with a chair and asked to sit down during his 10 hour shift, but other, younger workers were not. Filipe Edreira, a 66-year-old recycling plan operative with Severn Waste Water Service in Worcester had worked at the company for 17 years before he was sacked in October 2023, and believed his employers were trying to force him to leave by singling him out. The Tribunal ruled that, although offering him a chair was ‘unwanted conduct’ that could have been discriminatory because it was unusual, colleagues had been worried for his health and his claim for age discrimination and harassment was dismissed.

In another case an employment judge ruled that saying, ‘back in your day’ to an older person could be seen as discriminatory, because it highlighted the age difference between the person making it and the person hearing it. Whereas, ‘back in the day’ was not barbed or pointed.

Some boomers’ now hoist by their own petard

Clearly, what matters is it’s not the behaviour itself but the reason behind it. On the London Underground I see kindness and good manners; Mr Edreira saw a move to fire him because of his age. And journalist Jennifer Selway (Sunday Express, April 28) sees it as insensitive and judgemental. Her anger is directed against being seen as old. She was a baby boomer, when ‘being young was our brand and becoming old was never part of the deal.’ She’s not yet 74, and says that you are as old as other people think you look. ‘So what is it with these insensitive young women who keep offering me their seat on the train? Do I look like I am about to peg out if I stand for a moment longer?’ She says, ‘the sad fact is that our ageist society regards old age as the absolute pits,’ though it sounds to me that this is mainly her perception, formed back in her day when being young was her brand. Commenting on boomer’s ambivalent attitude to old age, Times columnist Ann Treneman, agrees. Aged 68, she asks, ‘What’s wrong with the word ‘old?” ‘The core boomers … would say that, wouldn’t they? They practically reinvented youth and now want to do the same for old age.’

The most successful agers that I’ve met are the ones who don't think much about getting older. They just live fully in the moment, to the best of their abilities. And most of all, they have let the Scriptures mould them, and have developed thankfulness and gratitude. They are gratefully: some focus on it intentionally. I can’t count the hundreds, perhaps thousands of times I’ve seen the result of giving thanks, even in difficult circumstances. Just one example is my friend caring for her husband living with dementia. In the midst of the crises, the daily mountains of laundry and coping with the ever present grief, she tells me of the things she is grateful for. They include competent carers and compassionate neighbours: the view of an old church steeple surrounded by trees through a little window in her top floor apartment, a kind taxi driver, and that a neighbour, without being asked, brought a good feeding cup for her husband when he was confined to bed.

Giving thanks to God balances our souls, and saying thank you to others for their kindness is a small blessing that can have a big impact. It’s a godly thing to do. ‘In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you,’ says 1 Thessalonians 5:18. Why not stop what you’re doing and think of seven things to say thank you to God for, right now?

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