Monday, July 08, 2013

Smacked-down by a new "-ism"

I grew up surrounded by prejudice. Race, socioeconomic status, education -- it was all there, a judgement just waiting to happen. Prejudice was, in a sense, a generational thing, and though both my parents overcame it to an extent in later life, some of their fixed, negative ideas lingered to the end.

Not me. As a child of the sixties, I had been convinced in recent years that all prejudice was dead or dying.

Working for 30+ years in a liberal university environment, I had pretty much convinced myself that prejudice, at least along the enlightened East Coast, had become a dark shadow from the past.  I work with all kinds of folks: people of all colors, faiths, educational levels, and political opinions. All seem to blend pretty well in the educational melting pot. We make a stronger whole because of our differences, which are mostly superficial.

In a similar fashion, J. had colleagues of all varieties in his IT job.  He has a wide circle of friends and tennis buddies from diverse communities. He and I might as well be the parents on an episode of Family Ties.

Stop, wait! I can hear you snickering, Dear Reader. You're waiting for Pollyanna to meet Godzilla.

And she has.  Remember that old slogan, "You're not getting older, you're getting better"? I believed that one, too!

J. has been out of work lately, laid off at the end of January. With all his years of experience, he gets lots of interviews, especially phone interviews. The in-person interviews seem to go well. Then ... those offers don't roll in.

Ageism. I barely know how to spell it, much less how to approach it. As a spiritual director, I know what wisdom and clarity our elders have to offer; as a hospice volunteer with frail older people, I realize how precious our seniors are.  Companies have missed this point. Ageism is impossible to prove, especially since employers give no feedback after an interview. But J.'s gray hair and beard are hard to miss. With all his skills, it is hard to imagine anything else holding him back.

So, we caved.  When we got back from vacation, J. shaved his beard (which he has worn for 35+ years; the kids have never seen him without it!), and we darkened his hair. I never believed it would come to this. He does look much younger. But what is the price?

I feel slightly ashamed of us. J. could afford to retire if we tightened our belts a bit, but he really enjoys working. So I guess we have bowed to the Unholy Market Force. I feel slavish, obsequious.

I want him to revert to my happy, gray-haired, bearded, grizzled spouse after he gets a job. I want him to know how much I love him as he is. If only the hiring managers felt the same way.

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