Older people deserves respect!
By Amal Chatterjee
I remember a movie I saw in The United States called A man called horse which was about the life of the native Americans and the harsh way they had to adjust to the severe winter and the often scarce availability of food at times. It made them move frequently their camp in search for food and water so they were experts in setting up their tepee in a new location and also in dismantling the tepees that was done exclusively by the women.
The Native Americans took the word practicality to its extreme and discarded anything or anyone in its name. There was one scene when a very old and feeble woman was turned out of their tepee to die in the freezing cold and snow blizzard because they could not care for the sick and very old people who had outlived their usefulness in their nomadic life.
The scene was so pathetic that it brought tears to my eyes watching the old woman slowly freezing to her death. Perhaps they were practical people to whom life or death meant very little because they lived a precarious life of hunting and gathering where old people became a liability.
I often think of this topic because everybody gets old someday and faces the challenges all old people face at some point and often fall short of meeting these challenges due to many reasons that I want to write about today.
I have a written a blog called The old age care that is perhaps worth reading in this context.
We now live in the era of practicality just like the Native Americans did so long ago and have not learned to treat old people with respect they deserve. The Confucian ideology that promotes love and respect for the old age parents and grandparents has seen a dilution due to a large measure of economic pressure under which people now live but this lack of respect and care for the olds has more to do with the attitude and not always about money.
The joint family system that was practiced in some parts of India where the grandparents and parents lived together with their sons under one roof distributed the income evenly among all although not all the sons were earning.
It worked until the sons got married and brought into the family a woman from another family. She had no love or loyalty for the in laws and demanded that her husband spend the money he earned for her and her children and not share with the others so it brought about a fracture in the joint family system that slowly fell apart.
Now if we observe the present situation, we learn that sons live separately and some keep the grandparents and parents with them grudgingly or at best with indifference because they have lost faith in the old Confucian system.
This has something to do with the loss of respect the daughter in law has that the sons condone to keep peace so the old are tolerated but not respected. This puts the olds in a precarious situation so some go to live in the old age homes but it is not for everybody. These old age homes are not for the poor because they are run as business and cater to those who can afford the cost.
The vast majority of old people have no choice but to live the rest of their life with their sons or spinster daughters. I have written about the abuse they suffer silently and pray that the Good Lord takes them.
There was a movie made by Satyajit Ray a long time ago called The diary of the road ( Pather panchali ) that won many awards for its graphic depiction of the old age problems. I remember one particular scene in the movie where an old woman rocked to and fro in her village porch late at night with an oil lamp when everyone was sleeping singing O Lord my day is over, it is now the evening of my life. Please take me now.
It was a classic movie that highlighted a problem the society has faced since a long time and still does but it is pathetic and no less sad than the Native American woman freezing to death in the blizzard at night. They felt the uselessness of their lives because they were unloved and uncared for.
Now I read the news about the young people in Spain attacking the retired old people who meant no harm to anyone so what makes the young people behave this way? Some old people live on their pensions or own resources so they are no burden to anyone while others less fortunate have to live with their sons.
I think the arrogance of youth that has no reverence for anyone especially old people has something to do with it. Where does this arrogance come from?
I have often heard people say that respect must be earned but it goes against the Confucian practice of showing respect to any and all. Your parents do not have to prove their worth to earn the respect of their children but should be respected without conditions because parenting is a hard job anywhere and they make a lot of sacrifices to raise their children. Your grandparents deserve even more respect because they raised your father so well and used their hard earned life long experience to do so.
This is where the orient and the occident part ways in understanding what it means to show respect to the old people and the meaning of duty and filial subservience.
I think the fault lies with the people old or young who insist on being called on a first name basis so a child can call his grandfather John or his mother and father by their first name. This is where the seed of disrespect is sown that later blossoms into something else. This is common in the western culture.
It is easy to show disrespect if you do not love someone so it prepares the ground for the lack of care and concern for the olds when they need it the most.
The respect comes from the realization that you owe your existence to your parents. They not only feed you but protect you from harm and always look after your wellbeing although it is also true that some parents do not do a good job due to some problems of their own.
In the animal kingdom from which I always draw my analogy, the relationship between the mother and the offspring is quite clear cut and visible. The females will fight to death to protect the young but at a certain time will wean them off and push them onto their own. The lion will not tolerate any challenge from its grown up male cubs and may even kill them.
This is where we are different from the animals. We do not challenge our sons when we become dependent on them in the old age and submit to their wishes because we become helpless. The in law factor looms large in such situations but not limited to it.
If the sons show a lack of respect to their parents and grandparents then it rubs off on their progeny who grow up discourteous towards them including the parents.
The frequent break ups of families due to the discord between the parents in the western culture is perhaps one reason when children in such dysfunctional families who suffer the most start to treat their parents with less than respect if they suspect their parents of infidelity, mismanagement of the family resources and negligence in their parental duties due to selfishness.
While infidelity can cause to break a family apart causing distress to the children, it is not the only reason for the break up in the family. It may be excessive drinking or gambling or other vices that make a family split apart. Why some people drink and gamble is another story that has been written about in my other blogs.
The Catholics forbid divorce in many countries so the parents may commit indiscretions due to reasons of their own and still stay together but it breeds contempt for them among the children and some may even do the same when they are adults.
When the parents and grandparents lose their moral ascendancy over the next generation due to their own personal behaviors, they lose respect that would be given them otherwise. So it is how we behave makes people respect or disrespect us.
There was an advertisement I saw in TV where the grandfather was offering a drink of whiskey to his grandson who put his arm on his grandfather’s shoulder in a very patronizing way. Such ads would be banned outright in more traditional societies where such behavior would be taboo but is common in the west.
With the industrialization and rapid urbanization comes pressure to limit the size of the family and live a more self-centered life from which the parents may be excluded. But this exclusion may also come about if the sons and daughters get jobs in different cities or even different countries and settle down there leaving the ageing parents at home with no one to look after them.
In many such cases the sons and daughters may decide to put them in old age homes where they receive some care. The old age illnesses are perhaps one reason for it but it may be also because the old age homes provide an alternative to lonely living. The Alzheimer or dementia that affects so many old people can be very alarming so some countries like Japan are taking steps to identify such people and put electronic bracelets on them for tracking purposes.
The old age problems will not go away as people are living longer these days so have to face some of the problems. The question is how to deal with it effectively. Those who can afford can opt for the old age homes but how about those who can’t afford? The vast majority of the old people can’t afford so they stay with their sons in patriarchal societies and daughters in matriarchal ones like here in the Philippines.
The disrespect shown by the young people toward the old people in some countries comes from the deterioration of moral values that the older generation failed to teach through their own example and traditions.
When some respect is shown toward them, they are more surprised than happy because it has become rare. When I gave up my seat in the bus to an old lady in Washington, D.C. one day, she was speechless and then effusive in thanking me although to me it was a normal thing to do. It is not so normal. I see the arrogant young people sitting in subways not giving a seat to the elderly while playing with their cell phones or listening to the I- tunes in their headphones.
This lack of courtesy and empathy to the olds breeds contempt that others take to an extreme when they attack and kill some old people for fun like in Spain recently.
The remorse or regret that may eventually come to the young people who one day get old and get the same treatment from the new generation by then is too late to make any meaningful changes in their lives so they blame it on their parents who failed to teach them good values.
So I think we all share the responsibility of teaching and learning together the core values that guide the decency and moral behavior in all of us and solve this problem together.
There is no other way.