Today I met some wonderful old people, who have started a national campaign here in Finland – called Occupy Your Own Age, Valtaa vanhuus.
I attended the press conference of this campaign, launched by 8 big national associations for elder people. They published 5 thesis, composed together, which emphasize the basic rights old people should have. These thesis were especially aimed at local politicians, as we’ll have local elections in Finland in October.
These associations want a total change in Finnish people’s attitudes. In the media, politics and general discussions old people are much too often considered as a problem or a burden to the society, as people who don’t produce anything but fill the hospitals and waste lots of taxpayers’ money with their endless illnesses… Enough!, these elders claim.
In addition, they ask to be respected as individuals. Finland is fast getting old – we already have 1 million people older than 65 years, which means every fifth person. So, typical stereotypes of old people are not valid – despite the age everyone is his or hers own, unique person.
Also one cannot claim that a group of this size is something marginal or can merely been seen in terms of social and health issues. No way. Most old people are just fine. They don’t lie in hospitals waiting to die but have time (and in many cases resources too) to spend on culture, arts, travelling, hobbies… Old people are very active in charity and voluntary work, too.
When planning what old people want, for example in local politics, it’s a good idea to ask the old people themselves. They should not be seen as passive objects but as active members of the society. In brief, mixing generations, both young and old , is very positive – and essential for mutual learning and further development of our society.
Despite all this, old people have to face stupid stereotypes and attitudes – when you get retired, you suddenly convert into something invisible and insignificant in they eyes of society.
One of the elders I met today was Jarmo, ex Executive Director, who explained how horrible it felt that one day he was doing business with millions of euros and the next day he was told to go home and rest. For what?! Suddenly nobody cares about you. “I don’t want to rest. I want to continue doing the same things that I’ve always liked, being active”, he claims.
Another amazing lady I met was Vappu, a feminist and retired child psychiatric, who told that especially old women seem to be the target for stereotypes and criticism – and their sexuality is still a tabu. Younger people add to the negative discourse by saying things like “this is not appropriate to your age.” Nobody should have the right to say so, as we should be free (well, relatively) to live our lives as we want to. Among old people – as among all people – there are clever and stupid ones, nice and unpleasant ones, healthy and sicker ones. And that’s just fine.
The Occupy Your Age campaign will culminate on September 15 in Senaatintori, where they expect more than 2000 supporters, younger and older, from around Finland. The main artist will be Jukka Poika, singing about solidarity between ages. Everyone is very welcome – despite the age. I’ll definitely try to go and add to the good cause. In the end, each one of us will be old one day – if we are lucky…