In defence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Keep your shirt on.  I’m not talking about the now discredited military policy.  I’m talking about the seemingly innocuous and avoidable question …

“How old are you?”

The other day at a party someone asked me the question and I replied that it’s against my religion to discuss age, and he was a bit taken aback.  I told him I would be happy to share my body weight, HDL/LDL scores, blood pressure and shoe size, but I drew the line at my age.

That’s just too personal!

He said he wanted to know my age to determine what cultural references he could use in the stories he was telling me.  I thought about that for a bit.

I can see how having similar cultural references like TV shows, games, or having been alive when certain events happened etc. can help people to better understand each other, but I still don’t see the need to ask someone’s age.

After all, if I were from a different country, the assumption that similar age means similar cultural references goes out the window. You could just as easily ask about the cultural references, or use them and see if they work.

Besides, we also have our own inner age gauge that is accurate enough to guess within a decade how old or young someone is.  That’s good enough I think.

But why resist revealing my age?

Is it because I’m ashamed of my age, or because I’m trying to be younger than I am?  No, that’s not it at all.

It’s because I believe that the creative power of our collective word and agreements causes things to be in reality.  Quite simply, our collective agreement about what an 80-year old should look like, behave, and what they are capable of, makes it so.

We have given every year of age a meaning or association that gives us our expectation of what a person of that year in age, should look like, how they behave, what they are capable of etc.

Because we reinforce a limiting narrative about age every time we ask and answer

Each age comes with a narrative we unconsciously check and reinforce every time we ask someone their age.  We’re actually keeping narratives in place every time we ask “How old are you?”

Every time the person responds our brain does a consistency check to see if he number matches the questioner’s story about how that person looks, dresses, speaks, behaves etc.  If it’s a match all is well.  If not the questioner thinks, “something’s wrong here.”

And I’d like to help change the narrative

The story is slowly changing though.  Now you often hear that 40 is the new 30.  This is definitely due to people delaying marriage and taking better care of themselves.    There are enough of those new ’30’s walking around to have people recalibrate the stereotypical associations they have with each age.

There is an evolution in the story we are having about aging, an evolution that is tied to the fact that we are living longer lives and redefining what we are capable of doing and the behavior that goes along with it.

I don’t ask the question and I don’t answer when asked, because I want to remove the age consistency check from our normal discourse.  This will allow us to remove our collectively imposed limitations, and release our bodies to age in ways that we can’t imagine yet.

I’m not saying that we’ll stop aging; that conversation is much too strong, but we may just find ourselves looking much better, doing much more, and being much healthier for longer than anyone ever thought possible.

3 Responses to In defence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.