young toddler playing in the sandThis past Thursday, I happened to be driving in the afternoon. As I typically do when I’m driving, I tuned into NPR. “Tell Me More” was on, and I caught part of the conversation on President Obama’s proposal to regulate home health care workers.

This is not a political post, nor is it one on home health care. One of the guests was a lady by the name of Nicole Lee, who hired a home care worker for her father after he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

What particularly fascinated me was when Ms. Lee, when talking about her father who passed away at the age of 71, referred to him as a “young man.” She talked about how he was very active, and needed someone who could keep up with him.

And I thought, “That’s incredible, to refer to someone in their 70s as ‘young.’ ”

Over the last few decades, our collective acceptance of what constitutes youth has changed dramatically.

Dr. King was indeed young when he was assassinated, but time was, anyone in their 40s was considered over the hill. Then it became the 50s. Last week, when I told my hair stylist that it was my mother’s birthday, and she was in her early 60s, she gasped and said, “Wow, she’s young!”

But this was the first time I’d heard anyone in their 70s referred to as young.

I think that’s rather marvelous. 

“Age is a state of mind.” It’s a cliché, but it’s true. But it’s exciting to me that more and more people are starting to go beyond the “state of mind” premise and refer to youth in terms of absolute age.

It’s why I love meeting people like Martin Waxman, or Kirk Hazlett, or Katie Paine, or Mary Barber. None of them are what you’d call spring chickens, but they are young, even if not obviously so. And I think it’s terrific that they are so devoted to our profession that they make it a point to keep up with new technologies, new advances, and are constantly trying to figure out how to balance “old” and “new” to keep the profession advancing.

Today in the U.S., people will be participating in community service in Dr. King’s memory. And while it’s not an obvious way to do so, ensuring that we in the public relations profession are as accepting of “old” as of “young” is the greatest service we can do to our own community.

Because while sheer youth is a marvelous stage of life, it does not have the wisdom that age brings.

So let’s not regard those who might have a few more grey hairs than the rest of us as fit only to put out to pasture. Quite frankly, they have, and will retain, more youth than many of us can ever aspire to.

Image: mikebaird via Flickr, CC 2.0

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke