Stereotypes Not Worth Living Up To

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After a recent meeting with my CoPs (Community of Practice) team, in which we discussed the ongoing inter-generational stereotyping, particularly in the workplace, we delved slightly into the realm of general identity of various generations questioning the characteristics of each and how they identify others age. That self reflection indicates their inner beliefs, stereotypes, emotional and social intellect as defined by self identity of age or generation. How does that impact our current lives and then progressing forward to provide a snapshot of the future identities as previously defined? Discussion of how existing stereotypes are recycled from generation to generation impacts and perpetuates ongoing misalignments. Could these assumptions then manifest into reality, or continue in error of substantive support which allows old stereotypes as well as new ones to be created for each emergent generation. Do our own stereotypes actually manifest to represent who we become for ourselves in the future? I decided to explore a public and popular statement of identity that was famously proclaimed 50+ years ago, and if the author indeed became what he perceived as his future own predictable stereotype and compare it to his current beliefs, behaviours and lived experience.

The bases for this review was focused on The Beatles. Their music remains timeless from generation to generation. As an era of young Baby Boomers in the 60’s came of age to become older Baby Boomers in the 21st century, are the representations identified in the music still relevant to earlier stereotypes and has the writer, Mr. McCartney evolved into his own image of what he defined to be older.

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The heuristic cues reflect a time period and generational stereotype that existed for people who are 64 years old.

In 1967 the superstar band, released their hit When I’m 64‘, which remains popular still today. Paul McCartney was 15 years old when he wrote the song about his father who had just turned 64 that year. Musical words that created a picture of his father during that stage of his life. The written lyrics express the vulnerability of a couple growing older together and questioning if their love will endure the passage of time, but even more so, the onset of age and its challenges. The heuristic cues reflect a time period and generational stereotype that typically would exist for people who are older and creates a story that portrays the participants as people who could be enjoying retirement “having a cottage on the isle of Wight”, “knitting a sweater by the fire”, “grand-kids on their knee”, McCartney, P., (1966) but may also be struggling with the hard physical realities of needing help – “Will you still feed me?”. Further, it may even show representation that older people are less desirable and not worthy of love at an older age. General identifying stereotypes that are still common today by reflecting the abilities or lack of abilities surrounding seniors who are ageing. Has time changed this stereotype, or do people still believe this is the reality that accompanies the onset of ageing. Was this Mr. McCartney’s true belief of a person who is 64 or was it romanticised depiction of a love story where two people of age still need each other to survive. Perhaps his idealist vision of growing old with someone to share and care for each other or maybe it was simply words that rhymed to make the song appealing. If this was his idealistic vision of growing old, how did that affect him in his own reality and current life of aging? Did it impact his behaviour of what it means to be old?

Mr. McCartney is currently 76 years old and continues to tour and perform, and remains very active in the music scene. Now, 61 years later his newest release in 2018 is called, Get Enough, which ironically the lyrics are an older man reminiscing about the past loves of when he was younger. Overall, Mr. McCartney hasn’t really lived up to his own perception and description of the image that he defined his own father as being at the ‘young’ age of 64. This doesn’t account for the natural progression of generations that say “it will be very difficult to generalize about baby boomers because of the large diversity represented. There will be boomers in their 70s who are truly like their parents were in their fifties and there will be people who look old and act old.” Goldsmith, M. (2008).

Perhaps this means stereotypes don’t impact us at all in our development. Perhaps it means stereotypes are a lot of ‘rubbish’ as the British call it. Mr. McCartney followed in the footsteps of his father who was also a musician, so it is interesting that he didn’t identify more with his father’s position. Certainly there is a drastic difference in the level of fame, fortune and glory father and son each has achieved, but for a boy of 15 who wrote the original song, typically they are more idealized about their father’s achievements, and capabilities, at any age.


“Culture, race, and ethnicity, plus the accumulation of individual life experiences, shape the course of people’s later years.”

Another aspect of this generational misalignment is to consider how younger generations perceive older people and if that is based on actual behaviours and perpetuated stereotypes. As we all grow older, stereotypes often surround cognitive depreciation and physical inhibitions that younger generations observe and attached to an age rather than a condition. But in fact “Culture, race, and ethnicity, plus the accumulation of individual life experiences, shape the course of people’s later years.” Carstensen, L. and Hartel, C. (2006) p. 1.

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Similiar, to the song and Mr. McCartney’s current vast physical and very cognitive capabilities, his own stereotypes don’t align with his personal lived experiences. Mr. McCartney has not lived up to his own description of what being ‘old’ means but his words, listened to by millions and millions may have unintentionally have created a perception that precedes him and continues to influence upcoming generations.

What could all of this mean moving forward? Is it possible to derail negative stereotyping through generations?? Is it possible age, race, gender, sexuality stereotypes have an impact on life choices altering ones behaviour through time? Do the same lyrics convey the same messages to different generations as the stereotype evolves across the span of 61 years? Is it reasonable to consider that lyrics could be manipulated to alter future generational beliefs? These are all questions researchers would love to answer and find solutions for in this continued inter-generational conflict and even more succinctly, generalized stereotyping.

References

National Research Council. (2006). Committee on Aging Frontiers in Social Psychology, Personality, and Adult Developmental Psychology. When I’m 64, Laura L. Carstensen and Christine R. Hartel, Editors. Board on Behavioral,Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11474.html

Goldsmith, Marshall, (2008), Business Week, Why 70 is the new 50. Retrieved from http://www.marshallgoldsmith.com/articles/why-70-is-the-new-50/

Cheryl is a Grad Student at Royal Roads University studying her Masters in Professional Communications. As an Executive Director of a community based Small Business Organization, advocacy and business ethics are paramount to providing fair and ethical leadership in the business sector. 

As a Baby-Boomer, awareness about the vitality, value and worthiness of people over 50 as valuable contributors to the 21st century workforce,  is more than a passion, it is a human right!

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