Chat with the chief: Age really is just a number

My first notable encounter with ageism happened when I was 16.

It was right before Christmas, and my mom sent me up to the post office to purchase an oddly-specific number of stamps needed to mail out holiday cards. At that point, I had never bought stamps and didn’t really know in what groups they were sold.

I walked into the post office and politely asked the cashier how many came in a book of stamps. The worker, a woman in her 60s, scoffed, gave me an eye roll and a disapproving look before sarcastically answering my question.

Throughout the remainder of my transaction, I felt so judged for not possessing any prior knowledge about stamps. As I rushed out of the post office, feeling ashamed, I wondered if the woman would have the same reaction if I was 20 years older. Perhaps she would have still been condescending even if I was older, but throughout time, I’ve discovered that people often stereotype others based on their ages.

Ageism is discrimination against a person or group because of their age. It is very real, and I’m sure many of you have experienced it to some extent throughout your life.

Personally, I’ve dealt with ageism my entire life. For starters, my birthday is later in the year, so I was younger than most of my graduating class. Because of this, some of my peers would tell me I’m “so cute” and “so young,” despite me being less than a year younger than them.

In addition, in high school, I was occasionally in classes where the majority of students were a year older than me. And sometimes, these classmates would be patronizing and dismiss my ideas because I was younger, as if one year of age makes a significant difference.

Since coming to Ferris, I’ve certainly encountered ageism less. I have classmates, coworkers and friends in a wide age range, and I don’t see any discrimination as a result. My professors seem to treat everyone similarly despite their age, as well.

However, outside of campus, ageism cannot be escaped. I went to the grocery store and my cashier, who was middle-aged, talked extensively to the older customers before and after me in line, but ignored my greeting and gave me the silent treatment. I see people on social media dismiss the ideas of Gen Zers, saying that there’s no way they can compose an intelligent thought because a minuscule number of 11-year-olds ate Tide Pods for YouTube clicks.

I’m tired of seeing people bash those in other generations, categorizing people into age groups and judging them accordingly. Not all Baby Boomers or Gen Xers are racist or hateful of younger generations. Not all millennials or Gen Zers are lazy, entitled or disrespectful of older generations. In fact, I’d say these statements are false for the vast majority of people. The actions of a few should not represent the rest of the generation.

In no way does my age correlate with my capabilities. My number of years on this planet does not limit my intelligence, my friendliness, my morals. These things are crafted by one’s experiences and upbringing. People can possess way more knowledge about a topic than someone decades older than them.

Before you make assumptions about a person based solely on their age, talk to them. Hear their story. Learn about their past and their present.

Stereotyping exists in many forms. Let’s not allow ageism to be one of them.