Late last year, the ‘OK Boomer’ meme sparked international controversy. It became a derisive catchcry for members of younger generations to express frustration and disrespect towards older people they feel are out of touch. Financial inequality, housing affordability, and climate change have become particular areas in which intergenerational tensions and ageism – on both sides – have escalated.
Now, some media articles have engaged in debate about which generations are taking warnings more seriously regarding COVID-19. Some make references to younger generations having to “parent their parents” and ensure they’re staying home, while others report younger people partying and breaching stay at home restrictions. It has been suggested that reports of older people being found abandoned in nursing homes overseas reinforces a message that some people’s lives and deaths are less worthy of being counted. At the extreme end, some horrifying social media comment has called Coronavirus a ‘Boomer remover’ or suggested its impact on older people may not be a bad thing.
This – it should go without saying – is appalling and totally unacceptable. It also comes with an important message. It shows us the extent to which ageism remains unchecked. It also shows us the danger of allowing a shared global crisis to become the new intergenerational battleground.
More recently, attention has turned to the burden of debt from the COVID stimulus package falling on younger people. Discussion about how the stimulus can be paid for into the future must be had, but it is often too easy to ignore the diversity among us at every age and divide us into homogenous generational camps. We know from responses to previous economic reports how easily this kind of debate can turn people against each other.
On the other hand, it has become clear how significant the under-recognised role of older people is to the functioning of the economy and our communities. We have seen services and organisations that rely on volunteers having to find new ways to work or wait the pandemic out, while the huge older volunteer workforce in Australia has been asked to stay at home to protect their health. Parents scrambled to home school and balance work and family demands as they were suddenly without the support of grandparent care. Reports from overseas have shown health professionals rejoin the workforce, risking their own health to serve their communities.
We have been excited by the response that the Care Army has received along with the vast and growing range of community initiatives in which people of all generations are looking out for each other. Thousands of people have signed up to these initiatives to look out for those who are older, vulnerable, or in quarantine. Many older people, among others staying in, have looked for new ways to continue to contribute from home. Media and social media continue to call on the community to support and check in on one another. This demonstrates – once again – the ways that terrible events can bring out the best in people and that a sense of community is still alive and well.
This community is made up of people of all ages who care about and value other people, whether they know them or not, and whatever their age differences. We want to see this continue – and not just in spirit. How can we keep those connections, keep showing intergenerational solidarity, keep showing each other respect and care after the pandemic is over? What we have begun here could change forever the way we live together in our communities.
We want to start a conversation about how we can keep this going and make sure we are not once again divided. We have much in common, and if the pandemic has shown us anything, its that it is in all our interests to work together and support each other. We have an extraordinary opportunity – to refuse the old ageist tropes, to write a new story about what we want life to be like as we all age, and to build the future together.
Join the conversation now on our Engagement Hub.