What's in a Name?
It is a reoccurring topic of conversation among many of the churches I visit and leaders I interact with. What do we call our ministry? And how do we identify the people we want to serve?
I’ve written before on how most baby boomers do not like to be called seniors. And in an effort to continue to search for answers to this question of what to call the new-old, I want to share something from a gerontology textbook.
“A study conducted in the 1980s of the language of aging found that even the terms aged and elderly were considered less than positive (Barabato & Freezel, 1987). This language bias continues more than 30 years later – and it must be remembered that language structures consciousness. We use the words (language) we have to describe ourselves and others, and in doing so, reinforce the meaning of those words.”
The negative connotations of certain words are “…cultural and based on decades-even centuries–of negative beliefs about aging. The core of the problem is that as long as there are negative attitudes about aging, even initially positive terms may develop into negative stereotypes” (Hillier & Barrow, 2011).
Did you catch that?
The authors are saying that the root of the problem is not the term itself, it is the negative attitudes that exist regarding aging. Until we start to see the aging experience as something positive, then ANY term will one day be viewed in a negative light.
If you’ve read this far, I’ve got one more quote to share from Aging, the Individual, and Society, “Currently the term older adult is the most positively perceived label: it reflects adulthood as well as age, in the same way that “middle-aged” does.” Older adulthood describes a developmental season of life and at least so far, doesn’t have the same sting to it that senior adult has.
So, what do you think?
Any suggestions on how to re-shape the negative views of aging that exist? And, any terms that you particularly like for describing people who are in the later years of life?
Barbato, C.A. & Freezel, J. D. (1987). The language of aging in different groups. Gerontologist 27, 527-531.
Hillier, S.M. & Barrow, G. M. (2011). Aging, the individual and society. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth 2011. (p. 44).