Perception vs reality- Age under the spotlight
Updated: Apr 24
by Lucia Dore
Perception and reality are often blurred. What one perceives becomes reality. The first instance of this is “truth”. We see this all the time in the media, often with politicians. What they say about how things are, is often not how it is in reality.
Emily Maitlis, the BBC journalist and Newsnight presenter, agrees. Just the other day (Saturday 5 October) she said how difficult it was interviewing someone now because the interviewee rarely speaks the truth. “Nevertheless, I think increasingly I have really come to appreciate the people or the politicians or the interviewees of any stripe and size who are able to answer a question and it seems such a small gentle thing to demand in 2019 but it has actually become the biggest ask we can make,” she said, according to The Huffington Post.
Asked how she would prepare to interview the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, Maitlis replied: “I’m not entirely sure it matters what question you ask Boris Johnson…”
The preparedness to say anything you want to has flowed into the language of many people on a day-to-day basis. This is very pronounced when it comes to age, especially when you are over 55. People are very quick to pass judgement and assume that everyone post-55 is frail and unable to travel alone, anywhere, let alone do anything that someone in their mid-20s or early 30s would do.
This is very noticeable in many parts of the world. Personally, I have experienced this reaction in the UK- and I was post 30 then- the Middle East, and more recently in different parts of Asia as well as in New Zealand and Australia. The willingness to comment on age is clearly a global phenomenon. “How old are you?” is frequently asked across Asia, for example. This question is not asked maliciously but seems to be based on the fact that it is unusual to see an older person on the street.
It is also acceptable to ask an older person if they are well, when the same question would not be asked of a younger person. Only yesterday I was asked if I was OK when I was hiking with a group of 10 people in Laos, most of whom were Chinese. When I retorted angrily, implying that I was being singled out for such a question because of my age, I was told “I looked hot”. But everyone looked hot, and the weather was hot. The guide clearly assumed that I was less capable than the others as a result of my age, although I was undoubtedly fitter than the Chinese girls who were much younger.
The guide also assumed I was less capable than the others when it came to kayaking, even though I had kayaked several times before. Eventually, I was put in charge of the kayak and after an hour successfully arrived at shore. In this instance, perception was quite different from reality.
I wasn’t less capable; I was merely “older”.
The population is getting older and more people will do things alone. An increasing proportion of 50- to 64-year-olds in England and Wales in 2017 were single and never married (12.9%), according to the Office for National Statistics, UK.
This ability to do things alone, not only extends to restaurants (which often results in people staring although I don’t notice at all) but to buses as well. (Yes, the fact that you are alone can make other people uncomfortable). If you are post-55 you are not meant to be taking buses from point A to point B and you certainly are not meant to be staying at a backpackers hostel- even though you are staying in a separate room, with a private bathroom rather than dormitory-style accommodation.
The people at the reception at these establishments are, for the most part, fine with having an older, single woman staying, Fellow younger guests are not. I presume this is because the older person is encroaching on the territory of the younger person. Older people doing what supposedly only younger people can do takes away from the “uniqueness” of the “adventure traveller”- even though many people are doing it- women and men.
And buses…well, only the “adventure traveller” takes them- and if you are “old” – that is over 30- you are certainly not an “adventure traveller” in the eyes of the younger set. (As an aside, what constitutes an “adventure traveller” nowadays?)
Last week I travelled from Vang Vieng to Vientiane in Laos on a bus, and I think I was the oldest person on it. Most were “adventure travellers” so my presence wasn’t appreciated by all. If I didn’t travel by bus, how was I meant to travel?
It is assumed that as an “older” person can travel more extravagantly; in other words, you have more money to spend. This may, or may not, be true. But in any case, an older person may choose a cheaper mode of transport as a way to see more of the countryside, and/or perhaps to save money which can be spent on more activities, or on a better tour guide. The same for accommodation.
Perhaps the willingness to comment on “older” people by younger ones is merely a reflection of the attitudes that prevail in society generally. While this may be true for some people- and there are those people who are younger but act older- the attitude that all “older” people are frail and incapable is both insulting and naïve. This attitude must change.
We at Behavioural Shift would like to have our readers share their experiences with us:
(1) Have you ever felt marginalized because of your age? If so, why? When did this happen and what did you do?
(2) Why do you think there is a gap between perception and reality?
(3) What is an adventure traveler?
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