Free to Be…

Inclusion is a two-way street.

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Credit: Muhammad Dwiko Rizqi /
Credit: Muhammad Dwiko Rizqi /

A friend recently reminded me of the Benetton ads of 1984, in which everyone was united regardless of color.

Benetton, 1984.

My cerebral wayback machine then took me to the 1970s, when Marlo Thomas (now 81 and looking great) released an album (vinyl, of course), focused on celebrating diversity. Warning: If you listen to it “Free to Be You and Me” will get stuck in your head.

A few things happened this week that made me believe that I’m finally entering that place “where the children are free.” Respect and inclusion for people of all ages is the final frontier.

  • A tech company I’m consulting to has employees and contractors ranging in age from 22 to 63. I’m the oldest person at the company by about five years and yet I feel totally welcome, involved, and respected. “How do you write so fast?” one 20-something woman asked me. I told her that getting older can actually increase speed because we value every second of time.
  • Meryl Streep is getting rave reviews (at 70) for Pretty Little Liars and Mick Jagger at 75 is back up on stage after heart surgery. And reviews say he still has those moves.
  • I’ve been reading about the formation of cross-generational social and business groups.
  • Another major global company was sued for age discrimination, pre-IPO. It’ll put some of the very real issues into the media eye.
  • Although a new study by Cornell said that ageism can actually depress us and cut our life spans short, education and inclusion can help to change perceptions of aging.
  • We definitely need to morph those perceptions, especially because half the U.S. population is now over 38, I can expect to live to be 81, and businesses are having trouble finding talented employees.

So, what can you do? As with every other “ism,” if you see something, say something. Stay on top of trends and learn the skills you need to stay fresh. Don’t feed into the stereotypes of older adults by acting preachy or fumbling with and dissing technology. Above all, learn from the skills that younger people bring to the workplace. Inclusion is a two-way street. Ageism against millennials is as toxic as discrimination against Boomers.

Ageism is one of the few “isms” that ultimately affects us all. As deeply divided as we are politically and culturally today, the eventual arrival of elderhood is a condition that unites us.


Perhaps Marlo needs to re-release her song mix.

One of the new colors of Benetton is grey. Let’s deal with that.

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