There is a lot of talk about changing mindsets of older people — about living by themselves, maybe in old age homes, give up notions of joint family and wanting to hold power. But before we go about changing their mindsets, let us first examine societal attitudes towards them as a group starting with the term itself. I got curious about it and looked up the thesaurus and I found so many synonyms for old age, most of them unflattering:
Infirmity, agedness, autumn of life, caducity, debility, declining years, decrepitude, dotage, ELDERLINESS, evening of life, feebleness, geriatrics, GOLDEN AGE, GOLDEN YEARS, latter part of animate life, longevity, oldness, retirement age, senectitude, senescence, senility, seniority, winter of life.
Add to it others like cantankerous, boring, stubborn, troublesome, interfering and more and you have neatly packaged them into the least loved chunk of population.
What a lot of derogatory and negative words to be associated with age! Who would want to be identified with them whether young or old? And even the capitalized words are condescending and mollifying at best. The only word that sounds respectable is elderliness. And I hope it is meant in a good way – that of being an elder.
Disclaimer: I am not judging either the young or the old in these posts. My sincere attempt would be to portray both the generations with understanding and appreciation, so bear with me if I sometimes appear to be taking the side of the one or the other. I assure you that the balance would be restored in the very next para or at the latest in the next post!
Coming back to the post, how does the word Elder sound? Isn’t it perfect to describe someone who is older in age, experienced and weathered in the nitty-gritty of the world?
When we alter perceptions and definitions even slightly, it makes a lot of difference to our attitude towards the subject. Remember how the word ‘handicapped’ was found offensive and replaced with ‘differently abled’? It had initially come for a lot of criticism since it was felt that reality didn’t change with a change of an adjective. But it brought a slow change in perception. Notice how the word immediately conjures up images of a lame or blind person as being endowed with some other exceptional ability, doesn’t it? If you haven’t given it a thought, please do it now!
So why not a different word for old age? Why do we insist on such negative images about ageing?
Now let’s say, wise, experienced, mature, seasoned, veteran, an old hand, knowledgeable, weathered, war horse, sage, mellow, sagacious….
Try superimposing these words when thinking/referring/writing about an elder and soon the perception about age and ageing will begin changing, slowly at first, but surely. And when they begin perceiving themselves in such terms, things will change for the better for all concerned, not just the elders. I agree that all elders would not have these attributes either wholly or in part, but so do elders don’t have the negative attributes, but get saddled with them. Wisdom especially is not always the result of advancing years.
For, we are talking about a huge chunk of population and can’t afford to have it being insecure, defeated, scared and unwanted by the rest. So let us accept them for what they are – the older versions of the young. What the elders should remember is that they too had once been young just as the young should remember that youth is not permanent.
So instead of shaming them or comparing them with more active elders, encourage and motivate them to become active, seek social circles and be socially productive in whatever small way possible. For all you know, they are simply overwhelmed by the baggage they have been saddled with and could do with some help in regaining their self confidence. It is not as if we don’t have active and productive elders amongst us. In fact, we have way too many of them. Others who might not be as active might have genuine problems, including financial ones.
Not too long back, many cultures including the western culture which we unfailingly turn to when we want to junk our traditions — held elders in esteem in the home, society and country. Slowly things began changing, first in the west, of course. We attributed it to the changing times, development, faster pace of life and stressful living that made elders redundant and many began shrinking in their own selves. And uncharitable words like the ones I have given above began labeling them, making them more insecure and unsure of themselves. And when a vulnerable section of the society becomes insecure, it can alter the entire demography.
I am sure it would come as a surprise to know that in Vedic times, the life expectancy was over 80 — 84 years to be precise. They divided it into four parts or ashramas of 21 years each viz., Brahmacharya, Grahastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. My young friend Bhagyashree has shared the physical division of these groups in her comment in the earlier post about how the four ashramas were arranged around the temple in concentric circles. The ashramas were not limited to only the upper castes as learning, running a household including earning to do it and then passing on the skills to the next generation — were common to everyone.
Do note that after just 21 years spent in the pursuit of worldly things, the responsibilities were handed over and the elders assumed just an advisory role. It doesn’t mean ‘interference’ by any stretch of imagination. So all elders who try to run their children’s lives, please take note!
During Vanaprasthashrama the elders are free to leave the household management and be mentors to the society at large. A time to put the wisdom and knowledge to a wider use. This is also the time when they went on yatras and pilgrimages, met saints and went deeper into spiritual pursuits and contemplation as a precursor to the sanyasa stage, which again does not mean donning ochre robes and going off to the mountains, but embracing a spiritual life that prepared one for the ultimate passing on. So you see, the concept of ‘retirement’ as we know it today is not rooted in our culture at all.
Today the vedas make as much sense as then, if only we were to look deeper and learn instead of talking about it superficially with a permanent sneer in place and blame all ills on traditions and custom.
One book which had extensively dealt with the concept of ‘eldering’ was The Giver, about which I had written here. A carefully regulated futuristic society as the one described in the book, which had controlled everything including nature, still needed the Elder, who was the storehouse of memories long erased from the people’s minds. He had to hark back to those memories to find solutions to the unsolvable problems. It is sci-fi, but still captures the essence of ‘eldering’ so well.
I know, I know. The youth of today is very intelligent and well informed. But while your elders might not be able to figure out how to work a smartphone or know how Google works, they have something more valuable – knowledge born out of experience. That is one thing that has to come only with years — well mostly!
But it is prudent not to generalize, stereotype and worst of all, compare the one with the other. Nowhere is the grass greener than the elder in another family. What we appreciate and love in other elders, we find insufferable in our own families, especially if they happen to be the in-laws. And to top it, we have the ad films doing the reverse stereotyping of older people. If stereotyping leaves the subject angry and upset, the reverse leaves them frustrated and unhappy. But more about that in another post.
And while we are at it, let us not keep reminding them that they have become old and dependent. By all means let them feel cherished and cared for, but also let them be active in their spheres at home and socially. But it would be good to remember that it is just as bad to load everything on them as to make them feel useless. So whether or not you live with them, arrive at a balance, and when required, be firm – and this goes for both the generations while dealing with the other.
So what do you say to some change in perceptions and mindsets?
….more in the next post. I have honestly no idea what it is going to be about, so please come back and find out!
Read the first part of this series — The problems of a greying India.
(Homepage image courtesy: www.colefordcarers.co.uk)
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The one point I differ with here may be that the nomenclature you are disgruntled with happens to be primarily English in nature. I spent a few minutes in defining how we refer to seniors in the vernacular… At least in the languages I speak, except for the word ‘budhdha’, which is meant to be profane, there are no words at all that are demeaning in definition. I have ‘senior’, ‘Uncle’, ‘Grandfather’, and the ilk, but nothing that comes to mind which is meant to be unflattering. On the female end of the spectrum, I have ‘Ba’, which can mean everything: mother (in our unrefined dialects, kids use it instead of ‘ma’ pretty regularly), grandmother, aunty, et al, which is again, not a reference to their seniority but their relationship with the speaker.
Perhaps the ancients who defined the first words of our languages were on the right track: Ensure no words exist to define the negative, and the mind will automatically react positively.
On the other part of the post, about respecting elders, or even subjective/opinionated respect: I can only say this: I have been brought up to respect any and everyone, unless they do something so stupid as to lose your respect – and in only those areas of life where they did that stupid thing… whether they be elders in your family or anyone else… So I may not be able to exactly comment whether it is right or wrong.
About your last paragraph: My father typically gets angry with my grandmother pretty regularly. He knows – and I know – and she knows – that she is able to do a lot of things by herself, so when she tries to pull off a little sweet old grandma trick of getting others to give things to her on a plate; we see right through it and tell her to do it herself. People outside will do all that and more, we don’t mollycoddle her at all. At the same time, we know she’s not exactly capable of doing a lot of things she wants to, given her age, so we have to force her to not do them, even if she’s unhappy about it. As you mention, there’s a balance – it just happened – we didn’t exactly strive for it, but knowing our limits meant not crossing them, which meant stopping at the right point. So there.
When I listed all those words that I found disparaging, I had not referred to the dictionary. It was to the thesaurus and I looked for the term ‘old age’ not either elders or seniors. So the remarks about them being negative. What I meant to say was that if these terms come to mind while thinking of or referring to elders, then it is not a good thing at all, because they begin to perceive themselves in those terms too. Shrinking into themselves is a very real thing. It needs to be observed closely in families where elders are marginalised and let me tell you, when that happens, these are the imagery associated with them to shun them.
Yours is one of the balanced families, that knows how to be inclusive with elders, whether respecting them or giving them the feeling that they are not useless. It must be a lovely sight to see your grandmother trying to get her work done but being told to get on with it herself 🙂 Oh yes, being angry with them, cherishing them, asking their opinion, all are part of elder care. They go to show that you care, and are not indifferent to them. For that is what hurts most — to be treated with indifference.
[…] Read the earlier posts in this series here and here. […]
First thing I feel that we have to remove this cliche..repsect cant be demanded, but commanded or whatever. I feel that one should give respect to the parents atleast if not all the elders and for that respect they dont need to be wiser or better financially( yes I have seen that even DIls always give more respect to wealthy inlaws),more educated, gadzet friendly or anything..cant we care for them just because they are our parents?
This generation has to learn that rights and responsibilities go together…if they cant do their duty , they must forfeit their rights too.
I never feel that we have the right to judge our parents..they were not right..they did this thing wrong etc etc..this relationship should be beyond that..To provide for our parents is our basic duty, what they did was their duty..and whether they did it well r not its their fate and choice.
Parents also need to contain themselves and engage themselves in their own age group instead of trying to run children’s life.
Very common mistake the parents make is that they live with one child and care for another one..this sort of creates lot of stress for everyone involved
Advice of saving is good for today’s people as they spend on themselves only..in our time we spent on relatives, extended families and then all our resources for children.
We are copying west blindly, but they envy our family support system.
Thi isone topic.I can keep on writing:)
Pwersonally i agree to KP sir that words never annoy me, instead my children used to say that…abhi senior citizen ho nahi aur kehna shuru kar diya…whatevr you name it..if i am old.i am old ..
Respect for parents is also in short supply today as their wisdom, knowledge and maturity are dissected not just by their children but also by the grandchildren. Some even go to the extent of taunting them for having produced children! while it is true that many elders behave in a terrible manner with their children, the general trend today is to live for oneself, so why not the elders too, eh? I know your views on these matters and how you advise both the generations to make adjustments, in fact you demand more from the elders. Those who are firmly embarked on the vanaprastha way are to be commended, because they are more detached and so are easier to adjust with for the younger generation. If labels didn’t matter, why do women call themselves homemaker instead of a housewife or stay-at-home-mom when they are not holding down a job? When you keep flogging elders with negative terms, it sticks and saps their energy. I love being old with all the signs including grey hair, but if someone were to affix any of the negative adjectives to my status, I would resent it big time.
Very interesting topic Zephyr. I completely agree that elders should be respected, but has anybody thought that elders need to listen to their children too.Just like a child listen to their parents,shouldn’t elders trust and listen to their children when they are not capable of doing things on their own. It is this role reversal which elders need to understand and accept.
On the other hand there are some easy going and adjusting elderly people also. One such example is in my own apt. This particular elderly person is 92 years old. He lost his wife few months back aged 87 years. He took his wife’s death in such a positive manner, just amazing.He has three sons. But he is staying with his youngest son. Very understanding and adjusting nature. His son and daughter in law both are IT professionals having one son 9 years old. He is the care taker of his grand son till his parents come back,teaching him shloaks,telling him stories etc.Inspite of technology revolution the whole family still believes that there were things that the elders knew which they did not and wanted to learn. Absolutely no regrets, no bitterness. Enjoying peaceful old age.
Sounds like such a wonderful way to live — with all three generations in complete harmony. I know of families where the grandparents are sidelined for the internet even when they want to teach them the very things you have talked about. It depends on the middle generation if they want their children to learn them. Else, the children follow their parents’ footsteps and ignore the vast treasure that they are being offered. I remember the movie Atithi Devo bhava, where Paresh Rawal does the role of an elder and spend time with the child in the family where he comes in as guest due an misunderstanding. That tried to bring out the joys and troubles of joint family in a nice way.
Rajee, hard though it may be to believe, today many parents are simply listening to their young ones and hoping that their lives would be easier for it. But it is the other elders who get the press and a bad one at that! Thakns for reading, hope you will read the others too and give your feedback.
Oh wow! This post (and the comments) took me all over the place. From the words used to depict old age to how technology and corporate mindsets are changing the way we look at elders.
While reading, one thought that popped up in my head was: Isn’t it the younger gen who talks of age just being a number… specially when comparing themselves with people younger to them? Why don’t they say the same when they deal with their elders? Age IS only a number after all.
I don’t think the issue is about older people v/s younger people. It is more about sensible people v/s not-so-sensible. Sensible people make it a delight to be be around… enriching to interact with… and calming to consult with when life hands you a tart lemon. The other kind… well… don’t. To me, that is the crux of the issue. And age has less to do with it than we suppose… at least so I think.
Also, I hope I won’t offend anyone but it must be said. People who have not been reasonable and/or sensible in their youth aren’t likely to improve with age. On the contrary. The sensible, of course, improve dramatically and turn into pure gold. This is one of life’s unreasonable little quirks. With age your dominant attitude/ characteristic is merely brought into high focus.
That’s why I am trying desperately to teach myself to be reasonable and sensible. I don’t want to be caught in the headlights when it is too late. 😀
Okay, that was an irreverent comment. But everyone else has already said all that could be said… and said it with such seriousness that I felt compelled to lighten it up a bit.
Please to be forgiving if I offended.
That comment from Varsha about the workplace determining the status of elders was a revelation to me too. And as Suresh has observed, youngsters judge the intelligence of their elders by how savvy they are with gadgets and gizmos. While it is true that sensible people can be found in all age groups, it is also true that with experience one develops understanding and sensibility unless one is determined to remain stupid! After all,only those who learn from life can graduate to becoming an elder. And don’t worry, you are already well on your path to elderhood 🙂
In my space all are free to voice their thoughts and express their opinions. So go ahead and speak your mind, for without discussion there is no learning and hey, I am trying to graduate to being an elder too, so I will be ‘sensible’ and not be offended 😀
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Ah, Dagny. You speak my mind. What you said in paras 3,4 and 5 are exactly true and what I feel too. However, circumstances do make some people bitter and make them lose their perspective of things.
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Pertinent post and interesting comments by Rachna and Suresh. Elder is a respectable and acceptable word. And I’d rather be sage than senile. 🙂
Ah, the comments! Those are what make my posts interesting 🙂 Yeah, who would want to be senile when they can be a sage or a mentor?
Very relevant post in today’s times Zephyr and you have dealt with it so beautifully ! The balance has to be maintained ever so carefully.The young and the old both need to understand this balance with changing shift in roles in their lives. What was possible in youth is constrained by the infirmities of the old and that fact itself can be hugely frustrating. The young would also, do well to remember that the brashness of youth, is for just a moment and this too shall pass.
As Suresh had mentioned in his comment, the world is loaded against the elders because things are changing so fast, and they find it hard to keep up. I can tell you about myself. Not a decade back, I would be on top of the latest in gadgets and software but slowly began losing the race. Today, I have stopped running to keep up, but pick and choose what I would need to know and then learn that. Ah yes! Learning is the most important thing for humans as long as we live in this world. Even old dogs need to learn new tricks though it is said that they can’t 🙂 The only thing that everyone needs to understand — both young and old — is that elders are going to be around and in ever larger numbers. As you have mentioned, the sooner elders accepted that they should keep up with the world and the youngsters accepted that the elders had once been active and energetic and so need to be treated with patience and compassion if not affection, it would be better all around.
When I think about ‘elder people’ my mother comes into my mind and others like her. She was completely dependent on her son for everything. Though we, daughters went and spent time with her as often as possible and indulged her with many things, she felt she was a burden to her son. Until she was cooking in the mornings and evenings, she was happy. After she started losing her balance and her eyesight started getting bad, even though, her son treated her well, she started feeling useless. Then she started eating very less and less and fell ill. Though she had enough money in her name, she was not happy. She felt herself like a burden to her son. She was reading a lot and entertaining her grand daughter, it was not enough. Then she started getting addicted to TV serials. Then real problems started at home, mainly because of the TV viewing. It is happening in many houses now.
She recites shlokas in the morning. She knows many mythological stories to tell the small children, but the children, her grand children grew up and now these things are boring to them, which made her think that she is useless.
She is no more now. But all of us remember her, even the grand children talk of her often, but she was unable to blend with the times at the end of her life which made her a bitter person. When the children are rich they can give the elderly one separate room and TV too, but if they are in the middle class category, it is not possible. Well…adjustment only will work, from both younger and older generations.
One more thing, until the elderly couple are together, it is easy to cope up with old age. When alone and if we have no other distraction in life, bitterness takes over. We should be careful not to let it in.
Wonder how I am going to be in another 10-15 years!
Thank you for sharing your experience with your mother with us, Sandhya. As I had said earlier, I get the idea for my next post from the comments in the present one. This is a very valid and important point — that of one of the spouses being left behind. It sometimes takes the will out of living in some and makes others bitter. But even here, things are changing and even single women want to stay by themselves, even if it is a one room apartment or old age home. Men have been doing it for years. We are all thinking and growing elders and will surely find our way to fruitful ‘eldering’ by the time we need to, so don’t worry 🙂 Did you see the status quote on FB that I put up today? It explains the concept of an elder so well.
Completely endorse your view point.
So many synonyms of ‘elder’, just means end of life, but actually thats not true. It’s just another phase of life which we all have to enter.
It has it’s own up’s and down’s. It’s all in mind and heart how we perceive life.
Thanks for reading and commenting Swati 🙂 Yes, it is all in the mind and so it is even more important to employ sensitivity and sensibility while dealing with elders, allowing them the time to adapt and helping them along instead of looking at them as the biggest problems.
The post is thought-provoking and I am totally in for the change in perception related to the word Elders. The negatively around it should be replaced. But somewhere I feel even the seniors have to stop considering themselves the victim of age, they must share their wisdom as well as be ready to adapt to the changes. When so many believes, fastings, ways and practices have undergone changes, why shouldn’t they change. They must rightfully take a stand in the family and do as they desire.
The elders are trying to adapt, but as Suresh pointed out, the world is ranged against elders today and so it is doubly hard for them to accept the changes as well as their loss of authority and importance in the family and society. That both generations should be firm while taking their stand without hurting and antagonising the other is one of the points I have made in the post. Please come back for more in the series, Manjulika 🙂
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There are so many points said in this post, that I do not know how to comment.
Basically there is a lack of tolerance in society in general. You can see it on the road and you can see it inside the home. And the second is selfishness. We can just think of ourselves. My happiness, my freedom matters the most. It applies to both elders as well as the younger generation.
I am not against old age homes or parents staying alone. But the duty of the elders is to mentor and guide. Duty of the younger gen is to take care of the elders and take their guidance.
BUT the problems arising today are in my opinion is because we do not know our roots. So when roots are weak. how will the tree become strong. We are eager to ape others because it looks good but then somewhere we cannot relate to it and in turn get more confused.
There is a saying in hindi ‘put saput to kya dhan sanche, put kaput to kya dhan sanche.’ Meaning that if your son is illustrious then what is the use of savings. If the son is not illustrious what is the use of saving money for he is going to squander it anyway. Vedic wisdom says that we have to save. Then distribute it in this way-25 % to wife and children, 25% to the temple for community development, 25% to the needy in the extended family and 25 % for self.
Thanks for the mention Mami. I had thought that the comment in the previous post was frivolous.
Well Zephyr, you go into so many important and interrelated points so exhaustively that nothing much remains to be said. Especially when reading the follow-up comments from some wise and youthful readers. I use the term youthful deliberately because I think the future societal evolution demands that we move away from the idea of aged or elder or seniors as dependents or as a group which is past its prime. Future societal evolution rather necessitates that no matter what age people should continue to learn new things and keep progressing in as many different ways as possible. Like you said there was no retirement concept as such in our tradition. Each age had its separate focus but somewhat progressive and building upon the previous age. This needs to be brought back in spirit. The form this idea can take can be anything.
When I see my MIL trying to figure out an iPad or my Dad finally figuring out how to use his favourite bhajan as his morning alarm on his phone, I see them as making progress. It doesn’t mean that they will not need help or care, it is just that the perception that old people can’t learn new stuff – both on the part of the elders themselves as well as youngsters – has to change. In a way the spirit of vanaprastha could also means – to progress for one’s own sake, in whatever realm and without worrying about the pressures of family and social expectations. I believe if elders begin to show greater interest in and respect for the times that the youngsters are living in, rather than always harping about “their times” (hamare zamane mein toh…..) they may find more young people interested in what they have to share about their experience and life wisdom.
Looking forward to next part…
Oh, I understand what you mean by learning new things in a fast changing world. But do you know something? It needs the eye and heart to appreciate that even small efforts as you have detailed should be seen as learning. The problem begins when youngsters get impatient with elders for not understanding how to do transactions online, when they have never operated a computer and when it is important to do it right with so much online frauds going on. Oh, yes, the kids are so impatient at times. There are many who tell the elders, ‘Aap kya karoge is umar mein seekh ke, let me do it!’ deflating the desire to learn in one pin prick. Sometimes I feel that we are indulging the youngsters too much (I am guilty of that too 🙂 ) and so they are beginning to think of themselves as invincible and perfect vis-a-vis elders. While we can smile at a small child telling its grandfather, ‘Thatha, you don’t know how to do it, let me show you,’ and pretend to learn, when brushed aside by a 30 pr 40 something son or daughter, it hurts. Some take it as a challenge and learn it by themselves, but many just stay defeated by their blood and the times. There needs to be a lot of steps taken on both sides so that the twain can at least touch their fingers at some point. And let me tell you, the elders are taking more steps than the youngsters, especially since they have it in their psyches that they have to be taken care of, preferably by their sons. But more about it later. I am trying to figure out what the next post should be about 🙂
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I completely agree about the impatience point you bring up here. It does take patience to learn/teach any new skill like this, especially when one is older. It is true both for the person trying to learn something that he/she never imagined existing earlier, and for the relatively young one trying to teach the older generation. I know I have lost patience myself, both learning and teaching 🙂 (It’s kind of interesting to be in that age when one is neither here nor there, neither a “senior citizen” to get all the railway discount nor the new-gen type who knows all the cool stuff!) I also agree that there is perhaps a bit too much of indulgence (over-indulgence) going on with youngsters. I have observed that it begins with a very young age, like from babyhood itself. Too much pampering and extra-attention, perhaps this too has its impact on the sense of entitlement and arrogance that gets built-in the psyche when these children grow up to be adults…perhaps this wasn’t the case earlier….I don’t know, just thinking here aloud…maybe that’s a whole other series for you to write on – Gen Y parenting or some such thing 🙂
I am sure you will figure out some great stuff for your next post!
We were taught ‘Respect your elders’ in school and it meant all elders to us in general. Our neighbours…parents’ or grandparents’ friends etc were Kaka, Mama, Dadaji, Dadiji etc for us. We were equally scared of them and respected them.
With the corporate culture changing fast it is not rare to find people elder to us working below us in the organisational level, and being dominant or rude to them is part of the job. So in a way young ones are getting an authority that was reserved for elders earlier, which in the long run affects the entire mindset towards ‘grey India’.
According to me the younger generation is more irritated and annoyed and has little patience left now. I don’t see my parents lose control like I do, and they don’t obsess over petty issues like me. If anything, they make me relax and ask me to chill out. They are more resilient and take less stress.
Many elders are dependant owing to age related problems etc. Many are more active than before since they are done with their responsibilities and want to enjoy life. Either ways, not treating them as a burden and considering their wisdom and knowledge as an asset can sure make them feel loved and cared for.
That was a well thought out reply, Varsha. I had not thought about the corporate scenario where young ones are in top jobs with elders working under them. It certainly affects mindsets in a subtle way and disrespect for elders can spill into life outside office and at home too. The culture of respecting elders because they are older in age has almost ceased to be as far as I can see around me. In fact, there is a condescension, irritability or complete avoidance when elders visit and ask to see and talk to youngsters. So much so that some of them don’t even greet the elderly relatives and friends. I think it is the sign of the times. Not just your parents, but many elders in many many homes across the country and world are more resilient, patient and understanding. Unfortunately the others get the attention of media and social media and so it reinforces the image of elders as irritating caricatures! Your last line speaks of the ideal way to treat them, which will make for a better place for all of us, whether or not we take care of them directly or not.
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Being respectful and acknowledging someone is not a difficult thing to do. Hope that as a mother and a part of a generation that is going through too many changes, I can teach my children the importance of it.
You are right, Varsha — provided ego doesn’t come in the way 🙂 Understanding, politeness are more than enough if respect is too hard, considering many elders are perceived as being stubborn, foolish and difficult to handle.
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Very true Aunty! ☺
I don’t know what to comment. I am just typing this so you know I read the post 🙂
I second with Rachna on her opinion of the word ‘Elder’. As kids, we kept hearing the term’ Respect your elders’ which means anyone who is older to you. Not necessarily, seniors. So, I think it depends on how you look at it. Also, there are all kinds of people. Understanding elders, irritating/annoying elders. At the same time there are many empathetic younger folks as well. It all depends on the situation you are in. I have my own set of complaints against my mom. She is an angel to my friends. But you know the pain only when you feel it. Same with their parents too. One thing I can say from your last post and this is, SAVE. Save tons of money for your old age. Don’t depend on anyone for anything. Most of the parents like to be independent, but there is a sect who thinks that it is the kids’s responsibility to take care of them. So, it makes all kinds to make this world. 🙂
As I had put in the disclaimer, the posts doesn’t take the side of the one or the other generation and tries to balance both out, if not in the same post, in a previous or following post. When we talk of stubborn and irritating elders, aren’t we forgetting that there are rude and abusive youngsters too? It is not as if elders are to be brushed aside as their productive years are over. This generation of 30 and 40+ are wise enough to save tons — often having just one kid or no kids at all, which makes it easier to do it. Alas, even with two kids the previous generation sometimes has been foolish enough to spend their nest egg on the education of their kids, sometimes even mortgaging their property. It is this generation that is demanding that the elders leave them to live their lives!
It is a very nice and scholarly analysis of the problem of old age and pleads forcefully for a change at the way we look at the elders.
As an old person myself, my view is that none of the many terms you had mentioned to describe elderly persons is derogatory but only describes them as they are. Why should one take umbrage at them unless it is used to address to a young person?
As people advance in years they lose the physical strength and earning capacity. They cannot contribute much to their homes or the society unless one is affluent. The chances of their being slighted are more in such cases. Add to this, ailments like arthritis, diabetes/blood pressure, loss of vision or hearing, dementia, incontinence and low tolerance, they become an added responsibility (a euphemism for burden) to the family. In the modern days when everyone is working, managing them is a real problem and inability cannot be considered disrespectful.
Calling the handicapped differently-abled may salve our conscience at our inability to do much but will not alter the nature of handicap. Calling the very old wise or experienced even when they are not may be deception at best. Such terms are social niceties and mean nothing. But the need for kindness and special attention to them cannot be overemphasized.
The real help comes to the old in the form of concessions like tax breaks, higher bank interests for deposits, discounts in stores,laborartories,travel and in most commercial establishments, separate queues in counters, reservation of seats in transport and facilities like wheel chairs/buggy cars. There is a lot more to be done in many areas. In fact there are attempts to claim these benefits by a few even when not entitled to!
There is lot of other benefits. No one expects you if you are old to help or offer your seat, you have the privilege of being forgetful, repetitive or failing to identify people without being misunderstood They generally get an amused indulgence from younger people. They are also thought wise and experienced even if they are not.
I feel life as an oldie is not unpleasant if one can keep him/herself occupied in some way or the other without meddling in others business. One should learn to grow old gracefully.
Very well articulated, KP! What I had objected to was that the terms associated with old age are depressing and putting off. Don’t you think, it is one of the reasons why elders refuse to accept that they are ageing and try to preserve external appearance to look young even while proclaiming, ‘I am not old!’ Why the obsession with youth if they enjoy growing older? You already know about my penchant for white hair and how eager I was to get my first grey hair 🙂 Ageing has been saddled with so many negative connotations that elders are being pushed more and more into insignificance and unless they achieve something big, they are ignored. I have taken the four ashrasmas from the vedas to show that even in vedic times elders had relinquished responsibilities and power in the hands of the young to pursue a life of spiritual quest. Today they enjoy a second innings, at least those that can afford it! Yes, it is best to grow old gracefully and not fight something biological and natural.
I love the way you have taken all the positives of growing older including being indulged by loved ones 🙂 Today the old are taking care of the older and it is not getting any easier. It is really worrying, as the elders can’t be wished away, nor can the problem of caring for them.
Elders can also be called Verdurian ( refer to this link please- http://www.verdurez.com/about ). The latest film ‘Piku’ has also touched upon the seniors as to how they behave and also ‘irritates’ by talking on subjects, not of interest to the listners!
Most of the aged people , specially from urban area now think of the option of living in Old age homes rather then their own home and children also do not mind of their decession.
Thanks for stopping by, SRA and the link. Elders indeed are being seen more and more of a problem and ‘baggage’ and often they themselves are the cause for it, which is unfortunate. Are old age homes a solution? There are many layers to this issue and I am trying to deal with them one by one. Old age homes will certainly feature in one of the following posts. Please read and give your suggestions and feedback on the other posts to follow too!
First the words. No word, except the outright derogatory ones like ‘stupid’, has baggage of its own except what usage gives it, by which I mean the emotion that we vest in the word. But, yes, some words do get so much negativity loaded on them by so many that it is becomes impossible to use the word without the negativity. A new word, then, can start off without that baggage BUT, unless people actually use it positively, it can well acquire the negative baggage pretty soon. In a way, the negativity associated with the condition (being differently abled, for example) has to be mitigated to an extent before the new word becomes a symbol of positivity. (Most of these politically correct words went through many changes, possibly because when the first PC word was brought in, Society was still negative towards the PEOPLE concerned)
I think the current world IS greatly tilted against elders. In the past, change did happen but not so fast and not so radically, especially with reference to the necessary interactions with Society. NOW, it is a whole different cup of tea. Take just the instance of shopping – from the neighborhood mom-and-pop store to malls to online shopping to shopping with a mobile; from using cash to cards to e-money – things are changing so fast and so rapidly that it requires a lot of effort to keep up. Age does slow down your ability to learn – not to mention some physical issues like being unable to read without glasses etc – and, thus, it becomes tough for elders. Consider also that a lot of them probably did not even know how to use a computer. The level of inadequacy and dependency has never been higher.
There is the other issue. Till the previous generation to mine, age also meant an accumulation of knowledge. The youth would always find that there were things that the elders knew which they did not – and they learnt in their turn FROM them. Merely because of the years spent living and with reference to things that did not directly bear upon the work areas of the youth. NOW – some of what the elders knew are not relevant in the world that they live in; a lot of what could only be learnt readily from elders can come from the Internet; and, worse still, when the elders are wrong sometimes, that fact becomes apparent and gets thrown in their faces, thanks to the Internet 🙂
The last thing is an issue that has always been there. People always confused knowledge for wisdom. The one thing that elders had that the young did not was wisdom. (I take Rachna’s point that not all elders are wise. The point is also true that, the same sort of person is WISER when old than when young OR, at worst, as foolish 🙂 So, on the average, age does connote more wisdom) However, WHEN the knowledge of elders is proven lesser than the knowledge of the young, they are considered less wise as well. (To give an example to illustrate knowledge vs wisdom: I may KNOW all the movements of the stock markets AND the values of ALL the indices. THAT may still not enable me to PREDICT the possible movements over the next six – a form of being wise about the stock markets. The second may NOT suffice to advise various people on their investment patterns for their lifetime – which requires being wise to the nature of the people concerned AND being wise to all investments AND over the long term. AND this will still not suffice to tell them HOW to maximize their happiness by suggesting optimal expenditure/savings combinations – you know, avoiding the ‘We should have taken that European holiday then, instead of building a bigger nest-egg. NOW we have a lot of money but not the health to do it’, sort of regret. In fact, the the very first step to wisdom – knowing that you do not know – is something people never ascend:) )
Combating the “I am useless” feeling IS tougher now. AND, when the young feel too that the elders ARE useless, it becomes even more difficult. Which is the situation we find ourselves in today.
Suresh, I completely agree with your point about knowledge of elders being proven wrong many times. Forget elders, my son who is 13 will often challenge my facts and also prove them wrong at times. Google has empowered everyone. Imagine how open he’d be to listen to some weird theory from an elder.
As always your comment adds so much to the post.Thank you so much for the exhaustive comment, Suresh 🙂
Oh that word again! I should have tucked it in between somewhere as many other points have been overlooked 🙂 I had written about age not being synonymous with wisdom but in one of the edits, it seems to have got deleted. I will restore that. Ah, I am dealing here with the master of words! I loved your explanation about how new PC words are useless till the people start changing their attitudes. It used to make me feel the same way, but now being in that category, I feel it is a good word to instil some measure of confidence. Even if the society doesn’t view them as differently abled, the persons concerned surely feel good about themselves. Ask me! And pushing fast towards the elderly stage, I thought of this as being one part of the series on old age problems.
Your example of stock market, and investment advise depends on knowledge and expertise, which can be a great help if combined with experience. A very smart investment banker can look at the facts and figures and give advice but might not be able to plan someone’s life, of which investment is a part. For that wisdom is required. One can be wise in many ways, being well informed, intelligent and knowledgeable are not always necessary to be wise in worldly matters or interpersonal relationships or spiritual matters. What ‘wise’ here means is that and not the information based on facts. I am technically nothing but am still able to handle so many things and so are countless people like me and older than me too. It is true it takes me longer to learn something than it did a few years ago. Does that make me senile? If a bunch of people tell me that I am getting old and that I am not to be trusted on my own, I will soon begin believing it! That is the whole idea of this post, not to hold up the elders as models or pulling down youngsters.
Ah! Just to clarify: My point about knowledge and wisdom was to say that people tend to feel that they have nothing to learn when they acquire information, failing to realize that wisdom is what tells you how to make use of the information in the best possible manner to achieve your goals. Wisdom, of course, transcends this use – since it is wisdom that shall tell you what ARE the best goals in the first place. (THAT is what I tried to explain with the stock-market example) The elderly, by way of making the mistakes maybe, are, on the average, better positioned to guide but the younger lot tend to feel that, when the elderly show ignorance of some information, they have no wisdom to impart. This is not to say that there are not a significant number of elderly people who, as someone said, give the name of experience to the accumulation of their mistakes without ever having learnt anything from them. 🙂
Yes indeed, information, knowlege and wisdom are often used interchangeably. Unless all the information available on our fingertips literatlly can be processed and understood, it can’t be put to use properly. I have since added the line about wisdom being independent of age in my post, so won’t comment on the fact that there are elders and elders and elders and not all of them are wise or qualified to put experience to the right use to guide others. Not that the youngsters are eager to listen anyway having dismissed them since they can’t figure out the smartphone 🙂
I actually just googled the word elder and gave across very neutral synonyms like senior, old/older person, leader, senior figure, official, patriarch, father, guiding light, guru etc. All these seem quite nice to me. Per se the word elder or elderly is just a reflection of age in my opinion. Just like we use the word youngster or youth to signify age and hopefully nothing else. What I mean to say is that I don’t consider the word elder or elderly as being derogatory. I think labeling happens for all age groups and it is unfortunate but very much a part of how we live and experience.
Since I talk from personal experience, I have seen many elders who are asked indeed wanted to live with their children but they prefer to live alone. They cherish their own freedom and wish to do things their way which is fair enough. Another societal issue at least in larger cities is that both the husband and wife work. In this scenario, the elder at home has barely any company on the day-to-day basis. It is completely desirable that they cultivate their own hobbies, volunteer or associate with a group of other elders to stay occupied/energized. Again, this can only be suggested but depending upon individual nature, some elders resist this. Then they feel depressed and unwanted. It is a vicious cycle.
Another point I wanted to make is about wisdom. Age and wisdom and not a given. There are many immature elders around, yet they expect to be listened to and not spoken back because in our culture just putting your point across firmly to an elder is considered disrespect. I have heard this term tossed in general by many elders that today’s children are disrespectful. And, by children, they sometimes mean, adults in 30s or 40s.
Every relationship is a fine balance of give and take. While some elders are benevolent, wise and easy going, yet others are cantankerous, immature and insecure. And when you encounter the second category, it is just really difficult to arrive at the right way of dealing with them. You are right, it is a very complex topic.
Hey Rachna, that is precisely what I have said in my post about the term Elder. It is a very pleasant and neutral one as you have observed. It is the world OLD AGE that throws up so many negative connotations and so my plea to change it to something more positive. Just as there are elders who don’t all conform with the positive terms, so also’old people’ don’t all conform to the negative ones. Just see words like decrepit, senile and so on. It makes me want to run away from old age! That was precisely what set the post off. If someone like me could be put off by them, what about insecure elders and hostile youngsters? So the post 🙂 The issue of taking care of elders and other problems should come in the next post, I think, because that is something that is haunting both the generations. So please bear with me 🙂
Wise is only one of the terms I had mentioned but it seems to have struck everyone! I completely agree about immaturity and stupidity, as age has nothing to do with wisdom, but then knowledge and information are not wisdom either, which unfortunately are thought so. You have a very valid point about the other section of elders who need to be tackled. Let us see what I am able to come up with in the next post. Will eagerly look forward to your comment and inputs.