Here’s the thing about ageism: It’s not always malicious, but it hurts. Is there anyone who would say that we don’t want everyone, no matter what their age, to participate fully and to the best of their ability in American society?

Yet in this nation, the idea of living to your fullest potential seems to stop when a person is seen as “older.” Everyone is getting older — all day, every day. So where’s the logic in age bias, even if it’s well-meaning, against those of us who get older before we do?

Dealing with ageism doesn’t call for new legislation; it’s already illegal. No, the path to dealing with it lies largely in recognition. For example, what’s wrong with telling an older adult that they “don’t look their age?” It’s meant as a compliment, but it subtly puts a greater value on youth over age.

How can you say, “You’re only as old as you feel,” in a way that makes the point that many older people are healthy and active without implying that younger is better?

It all feels so innocent, and older people even do it to themselves. How many of us have forgotten someone’s name and chuckled it off as a “senior moment”? Jokes about “seniors” — are there “juniors?” — are still told as casually as forms of jokes long since put on society’s trash heap. Remember blond jokes and racial humor? They are cringe-worthy now that we understand how much and how many they hurt.

The bias against age shows up in so many ways. Older women we have talked with tell of feeling invisible in social or business settings. Behaviors like that are rooted in ageism, and we believe that as people come to recognize such behaviors in themselves, they will change.

First, let’s stop the casual language that fosters age bias. It is not a matter of courtesy; it is action that would help unlock the full potential of a group of people well on their way to being the majority population in the United States. We will pass that milestone around 2030.

It should come as no surprise that a movement to end age bias is being driven by the Baby Boomer generation. Each step of the way, just by the strength of numbers, that generation has had a profound impact on society. And now, 10,000 of them are turning 65 each day.

As a matter of fact, it is time to stop talking about Baby Boomers, just as terms like millennials, Gen X, and Gen Y should disappear. The catchy descriptors promote the assumption that everyone in each group has the same values and attributes. The terms are, after all, largely the product of marketers who like nothing more than to slice us up into categories, each with its own profit potential. It is marketing that almost invariably puts value on youth. When was the last time you saw a cosmetic commercial that said to embrace who you are, not a younger version of you? There’s even a men’s hair dye ad that encourages a touch-up before a job interview.

When age bias is eliminated, opportunity emerges. Older people will stop being told they are “overqualified,” the timeworn excuse for passing up the wisdom, skill and enthusiasm a person with a few wrinkles in their skin can bring to a workplace.

The timing is certainly right for a focus on age bias. As we write this, statistics show that there are about 11 million open jobs in this country and only about half as many job seekers. Guess how to stimulate new job seekers who happen to be older? Flexible hours, remote workplaces and a culture that embraces the diversity of age in the workplace are all there for employers to use. (And let’s not forget a practical consideration — if a person is 65 or older, primary health care is Medicare.)

As age is embraced, intergenerational connections will be more than family ties. In today’s world, younger people have a lot that they can teach those who are older, and those who are older can return the favor with what they know about working with people and managing organizations. Mentoring is a two-way street that spells opportunity to reduce the artificial barriers of age.

We are all getting older. If we are going to turn the page on age, let’s imagine a world in which everyone’s abilities are accepted at face value, where skills and strengths are appreciated and used without reservation and where no one is excluded because they are too young or too old.

Darcy Evon is CEO of the Village Chicago. Tom Kuczmarski is founder of the consulting firm Kuczmarski Innovation and co-founder of Chicago Innovation. They lead the Chicago initiative Turn the Page on Age and wrote this for the Miami Herald.

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