In a world that glorifies the new, is youth-obsessed, and is always looking at what’s next, it is a rare thing to find a culture that loves and reveres the elderly and even more prizes them and their contributions highly. Luckily, these places do exist, and they have a lot to teach us. Let’s discover them together.
IMG: Mohican Pow-Wow, 2018. Carissa Andrea Thrush. FLickr. Creative Commons.
1. Native American Cultures in the United States
While there are many different and distinct native American cultures in the United States, a common thread they seem to share is their treatment of and respect for the elderly. Many Native Cultures are taught that death is just another part of life and therefore there is nothing to be afraid of when considering issues of mortality or facing death. As such the elderly are actively sought out for their knowledge and experience as the memory keepers of these historically communal cultures. The elderly in turn are expected to pass that wisdom down to younger generations which gives the elderly a critical role in the maintenance of cultural tradition and legacy which would otherwise be lost without them.
IMG: Ghost Street. Jonathan Kos-Read. Flickr. Creative Commons.
China respects their elderly so much that in 2013, the Chinese government put in place a law, the “Elderly Rights Law” that allows elderly Chinese to sue their grown adult children for financial and emotional support if they feel they are not receiving enough support or are being neglected or mistreated. Chinese companies are also required to give employees time off specifically to visit aging parents. While obligation is a factor in ensuring proper dignity and care of the elderly in China, respect for the elderly has always been a cultural norm.
IMG: 58:100 John. Peter McConnochie. Flickr. Creative Commons.
In Scotland, the elderly have always been valued as an asset. Scotland actively adapts homes allowing people to age and remain in their own home comfortably. This initiative also supports families by prioritizing the elderly as valued members of society and making sure they can live in dignity and independently for as long as they are able to or want to. Scotland has also pledged to support the elderly in living long healthy and independent lives. Towards that end, the government has actively shifted resources from hospitals and extended care facilities to preventative care. Honoring old age continues to be a tradition in Scotland.
IMG: Love Has No Age. Nithi Anand . FLickr. Creative Commons.
In India, there is a beautiful tradition where the young touch the feet of the elderly seeking their blessings and showing their love and respect for them. The tradition of touching the feet of the elderly harkens back to the Vedic period 1500-500 B.C. Hindu culture believes that when you touch the feet of the elderly, you are in turn blessed with knowledge, intellect, strength, and fame.
There are many examples of cultures that respect, admire, and love their elderly. The internet age has us fooled, believing we are knowledgeable, simply because we have information available to us all the time. While the internet and virtual information is a blessing, it is no substitute for the elderly or the lived experience. As a global society, we should be learning from our elders. We should be actively seeking them out to pick their brains to receive from them all the knowledge they have acquired and lessons they have learned over a lifetime of “doing”. Even though the elderly come from a different era, and consequently their values and morals may differ from prevailing attitudes, there is still value in their wisdom. The elder generation is a remarkable generation that has lived through many circumstances that run the gamut of human experience from overwhelming poverty, oppression, illness, love, loss, risk, aging, to relationships and parenting, even to facing death in war and again in old age and more. These experiences lead to wisdom. Wisdom fortified by experience. This experience can be the lens through which younger generations look, to examine their own lives as they are presented with the very same situations and life experiences today.
The bottom line is to remember the elderly have walked in our shoes. They have been there and done that. They have seen things we will never see. They are still growing and evolving too. Most importantly, they are us and one day you will be them.