Friday, February 9, 2018

Famous Speech Friday: Ashton Applewhite's TED talk "Let's stop ageism"

Writer Ashton Applewhite has made ageism her target with the This Chair Rocks blog and Yo, is this ageist? blog. And in her 2017 TED talk, she made a call to action to the audience, since, as she made clear from the start, older is what everyone in the room is going to become.

This is a polished, well-paced, often funny TED talk that not only walked the audience through contradictory ideas we share about aging, but modeled the very behavior Applewhite was encouraging. But the core of the talk is its logical arguments. Applewhite busts myths about aging, offers alternative data, and compares, effectively, ageism to other forms of discrimination. Here's the centerpiece of her speech:
Older people can be the most ageist of all, because we've had a lifetime to internalize these messages and we've never thought to challenge them. I had to acknowledge it and stop colluding. "Senior moment" quips, for example: I stopped making them when it dawned on me that when I lost the car keys in high school, I didn't call it a "junior moment." 
I stopped blaming my sore knee on being 64. My other knee doesn't hurt, and it's just as old. 
We are all worried about some aspect of getting older, whether running out of money, getting sick, ending up alone, and those fears are legitimate and real. But what never dawns on most of us is that the experience of reaching old age can be better or worse depending on the culture in which it takes place. It is not having a vagina that makes life harder for women. It's sexism.
It's not loving a man that makes life harder for gay guys. It's homophobia. And it is not the passage of time that makes getting older so much harder than it has to be. It is ageism. When labels are hard to read or there's no handrail or we can't open the damn jar, we blame ourselves, our failure to age successfully, instead of the ageism that makes those natural transitions shameful and the discrimination that makes those barriers acceptable. You can't make money off satisfaction, but shame and fear create markets, and capitalism always needs new markets. Who says wrinkles are ugly? The multi-billion-dollar skin care industry. Who says perimenopause and low T and mild cognitive impairment are medical conditions? The trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry. 
The more clearly we see these forces at work, the easier it is to come up with alternative, more positive and more accurate narratives. Aging is not a problem to be fixed or a disease to be cured. It is a natural, powerful, lifelong process that unites us all.
And a word about Applewhite's outfit: It's got lots of interesting detail in the top, which we are able to see because it is not black. I can't tell you how many TED talks I've seen where the gorgeous dressmaker details cannot be seen--either in the hall by the live audience, or on camera--because the speaker didn't listen to instructions not to wear black. Not a problem here.

What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • You don't need a personal story to give a TED talk: This talk is all about the data and logic, not about a well-crafted personal story. Yes, Applewhite includes some personal perspective here and there--see her knees, above--but this is a great example of an effective, story-less TED talk.
  • Tone is everything: Applewhite tackles a topic no one likes to discuss, and which provokes a lot of anxiety. But her delivery is direct and non-anxious, well-paced but not frenetic. She's modeling the tone she hopes we'll take in discussing aging in a forthright manner, a great job for your talks about controversial topics to take on.
  • A strong call to action is essential for a talk where you've layered on the data and logic. What should we do now that we know all this. Applewhite doesn't waste the moment, making a clear call to action in this convincing talk.
You can see the talk here or below.


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