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Re-writing our ageing narrative

At Humankind Enterprises, we are passionate about addressing some of the key concerns of older people, such as ageism and social isolation, through story-sharing and building cross-community connections.

Unfortunately, ageism is symptomatic of a gap that threatens to ever widen. The word ‘burden’ is now more frequently used by media to refer to our ageing population, fuelling feelings of resentment amongst people who are already disconnected by changes in demographics. How will our communities - particularly young people - relate to, learn from, have empathy with and ultimately take care of the growing sector of society, which they are currently so socially disconnected from? We need a new collective narrative around older people, shaped by older people's stories and diversity.

Throughout much of recorded history, elders have had honoured roles in society that were defined and supported. This remains true among the world’s remaining indigenous peoples. Elders have been the nurturers of community, the spiritual leaders, the guardians of traditions, the teachers, mentors and initiators of young people. They have been the storytellers who have helped their people see the enduring wisdom and deeper meanings of life that lie beneath superficial models of reality. In our current world of ever-accelerating change, most of what older people have learned about work and technology is considered ‘out of date’ and no longer useful. In dismissing older people for these reasons, modern society also dismisses its prime potential source of deep wisdom and enduring values, not to mention that these stereotypes are often very wrong.

Older Australians are doing incredible, creative, genius and generous things all over the country. But we don't hear the story of the 84 year old entrepreneur who is saving lives through rescue drone technology (true story - that's my grandpa!), the 97 year old yoga teacher living in an aged care facility, the 80 year old philanthropist who is still working 5 days a week or the millions of other people who are contributing to their families, communities and country in unique and important ways. We need young people's vision as much as we need older people's vision because blended together, they provide us with a balance of perspectives, values, insights and traditions.

'When the old are not allowed to tell their story, the young grow up without history. When the young are not listened to, we lose unique ideas and have no future.'

Gunhild Hagestad, PhD, 1999 UN Year of the Older Persons keynote address

We are in a unique moment in history – a moment to slow down and redirect a trajectory that would lead to an ever wider distance between our old and our young; before a widening gap builds resentment for the care of the old; and before the real and rich opportunities for the dissemination of knowledge, skills and experience of our elders are lost. We need to create the space for these connections, to rediscover the ‘other’ through authentic and respectful narratives. Australia is a country that needs to be celebrated for its age diversity and stories.

Here are some of the ways that we, at Humankind Enterprises, are working towards this:

  • We work with local councils, aged care facilities, retirement villages and neighbourhood centres to run programs that bring older and younger people together to connect, share and record stories 
  • We record older people's life stories so they and their families can meaningfully reflect on and archive their family history
  • We run events and workshops with older people and positive ageing advocates to design solutions to ageism, including how we can make our spaces and places more age-friendly and inclusive
  • We are members and co-founders of an Ageing Collective - a group of organisations working to advocate for better inclusion and visibility of older people 

By 2056, it is estimated that one in four people will be over 65. We think this is Australia's greatest opportunity, not burden. If you agree, please comment on and share this blog, and if you are working in community engagement, positive ageing, ageing advocacy or if you're just passionate about these issues like us - please get in touch.

This ageing narrative needs to be re-written by all of us.

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