Benevolent ageism

5 August 2022

Director of UQ's Healthy Ageing Initiative, Professor Nancy Pachana spoke with ABC about benevolent ageing.

The conversation sparked after a video went viral of a young man filming himself staging what looks like a random act of kindness, giving a bunch of flowers to an elderly woman sitting on her own in a food court in Melbourne.

It looks beautiful, even moving but the woman who received the flowers didn't see it that way. She felt the video was artificially staged and it left her feeling dehumanised. She felt stereotyped as old and lonely.

Professor Pachana says benevolent ageism is thinking you are doing the right thing, however it ends up being wrong and making the recipient feel bad.

"With any of the ‘isms’ you’re basically just doing something because the person is of a certain gender or because the person is a certain age- so that’s the definition of ageism," Professor Pachana said. 

"The benevolent part is when you put yourself out as though you are helping this ‘poor older person’.

"The message you are then sending is ‘you can’t do it yourself’ or ‘you’re lonely so I get to make you less lonely’ and it’s robbing that person of personhood. 

Professor Pachana says it has the same kind of damaging effect as non-benevolent ageism, say- denying someone a job because they are a certain age.

“So, for example, if someone is just sitting alone at a table it doesn’t mean that they are lonely, lots of people sit alone it a food court, so it’s a pretty big step to make that assumption," Professor Pachana said. 

“I would say the first thing to do with any person in any situation would be to ask yourself ‘does this person really need help?’ and then maybe ask them."

Listen to the interview