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Brits should be ashamed of the casual cruelty we show towards over-60s, and shrugging it off as ‘banter’ does nothing to excuse it

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
Brits should be ashamed of the casual cruelty we show towards over-60s, and shrugging it off as ‘banter’ does nothing to excuse it
Two-thirds of UK over-60s say they have been abused in public because of their age, with a fifth saying insults come from within their own families. It seems the idea that we should ‘respect our elders’ is no longer in fashion.

We live in a society where everyone just loves to talk about ‘respect.’ Even primary school children are indoctrinated with the concept, told they are due it by right and can demand it from others if it’s not forthcoming. It’s all one-way traffic.

That’s why as they grow older, and insist on enforcing their entitlement, it becomes increasingly evident that while they assume that right is a given for them, they actually don’t give a toss about it applying to anyone else.

Every now and then, research will put this into sharp relief, as is shown in the results of a survey undertaken by the University of the Third Age (u3a). The study found that the more senior members of society, basically those aged 60 and over, are frequently insulted by younger people, and they don’t like it.

Clueless Millennials, Zoomers and even Gen X’ers told the u3a pollsters that they don’t mean anything by slinging ageist insults, they were simply being “friendly” and the name-calling was just “banter.” Everyone does it.

The growing tendency of young people to airily dismiss their elders as over the hill old fogeys, and to even insult them in public because of their age, is not ‘banter,’ it’s insulting and rude.

The misuse of ‘bants’ as a term is one of modern life’s great irritations, because while young people have co-opted the word to (mis)represent the sort of behaviour that borders on bullying, with a thin coating of vicious humour, they are deeply mistaken.

Banter, in its traditional form, is an exchange between two people, a battle of wits, a game of intellectual ping-pong, like those nerdy folk on Channel 4 panel shows. Usually, those engaging in banter finish their jousting with a smug, self-congratulatory smile. It’s showing off, it’s proving how clever you are. It’s not calling someone an old fart and shoving them out of the way.

Where’s the give and take, or clever verbal sparring in a teenager shouting at an elderly woman in the street, “You dozy old biddy, move it!”. Or standing behind a chap of a certain age at a shop checkout as he searches for his wallet and complaining, “C’mon grandpa, hurry up!”?

That’s not banter. That’s something completely different. 

A new sort of passive-aggressive behaviour combined with name-calling is increasingly common among young Brits these days, thinking that getting one over another person is some sort of achievement proving their superiority, particularly if it belittles their victim as a result.

Of those surveyed, 63 per cent of over 60s said they had been verbally abused in public with an ageist insult, while others had also noticed an increase in insults on television (65 per cent) social media (33 per cent) and even from their own family (21 per cent).

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My 11-year-old  thinks it’s funny to call me a ”boomer” when I can’t find the TV remote. She has a very clear idea of what the insult suggests, even if she’s actually out of range by a few years. I’m 56, so borderline Gen X’er, thank you very much.

Unfortunately for me, British families in general are not the sort of multi-generational dynasties, such as in Italy or India,  in which the patriarchs and matriarchs are given lifelong roles at the head of their family and afforded a respect that other members ignore at their peril.

Break the rules in one of these families, cause offence to an elder, and you will bring down the wrath of generations upon your head, face humiliation and even ostracisation. There is a sense of honour woven into the fabric of the family. These families are, sadly, not common amongst the British.

So most kids and young adults have no hesitation in freely hurling abuse at someone they consider a geriatric, past it, a fuddy duddy, over the hill, a fogey, a crone, an old dear, a codger, a biddy or a fossil, which by the way, are those insults most frequently employed, according to u3a.

This sort of casual cruelty, and the disregard it displays towards our seniors is hugely disrespectful and we should be ashamed that it’s so widely accepted as nothing out of the ordinary.

We’re all guilty here. Causing offence like this should provoke more concern than it does because it is an unwelcome sign of a breakdown in social and family hierarchies. Ignoring the concepts of seniority and wisdom, we treat human beings like any other consumable in our consumer-driven world with a finite shelf-life and built-in obsolescence.

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Many people feel no qualms about calling out an older person in public to remind them their time is up as a useful contributor to society and they need to shift it or risk being steamrolled by those behind them. While maybe not articulated quite like that as a traffic queue forms behind an elderly motorist showing excessive caution at a road junction, that, sadly, is often the underlying sentiment and we should be ashamed.

But most often, we’re not. We’re just annoyed at the inconvenience that someone older than us is causing to ourselves. Nearly 10 years ago, Age UK launched a study of ageism and identified it as the most widely experienced form of discrimination across Europe, affecting 164 million senior citizens at that time.

Nothing much has changed in the UK in this regard since 2011, it seems. And if the latest study is anything to go by, things have become even worse. 


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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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