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How to Respect the Elderly - The Golden Rule

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Age before Beauty – and Common Decency

Growing up in a traditional American family, I was instilled with the golden rules for better living – “eat your vegetables”, “tell the truth”, “look out for your family”, and other such valuable nuggets of wisdom. One of these, “Respect your elders”, stood as a special merit for me as I growing up. It is our elders that brought guidance to us youngsters when we were lost, knowledge when we were lacking, clarity when were confused- hell, our very existence wouldn’t be possible without at least two of them getting together to create us. I know I wouldn’t be the college student that I am today without standing on the foundation that my parents, grandparents, and past generations have built to ensure my own future.

But aging myself, I found such a golden rule to be a fool’s gold at times. What if the elder in question was from a sexist, racist era that carried such sentiment into our modern and “politically correct” time? What if the youth brought the most canine obedience towards an elder that continued to deny their humanity and rewarded them with reprehension? Or of the crass bloke that scooters around demanding whatever desire pops into their head, demanding for it instantly without patience nor gratitude? This are all characteristics found reprehensible and punishable in children – but why is it accepted in the elderly and even culturally taught to be pardoned in modern American society?

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By no account am I saying that total disregard for the elderly should be the new norm of American culture – without the elderly a good portion of American individuals would not have a firm foundation to build themselves upon. What needs to be changed though is the teaching of absolute adherence to the golden rule to every elder, no matter what background they came from or behavior they are acting upon. This spewing not only promotes negative behaviors in the elderly, but also construes the ethics in the eyes of the youth and fosters such similar behavior when they too become the aged class.

As any good parent would mention (along with the denials of any bad parent) is how much their child has picked up habits and characteristics of themselves, their siblings, and their own parents. The denial of such by an adult is irresponsible and downright abusive at times. Professor Barry Checkoway, from the University Of Michigan School Of Social Work, said that adultism (the absolute extreme view of an adult taking precedence over a child in thought, action, and morality) could cause the child to “question their own legitimacy, doubt their ability to make a difference”. (Rorrkychand, 2012)

With the golden rule in place, a child who is trying to appease such a rule would find several adults that frankly don’t give a care or thought onto them. The confused child would wonder what exactly they did wrong after following the golden instruction, causing self-doubt and instigating a lowly view of themselves over not understanding the “whys” on how such a treatment could come around. Or in another event, the child grows resentful of the rule, seeing how it cannot be applied to all and resound to abandoning it entirely due to constant mistreatment by elders. Either way, the child is effected for the rest of their lives by following one of these two negative views that would not only impact their view of self but their treatment of others that they meet throughout their lives – making their lives miserable along with the lives of those they come into contact with.

Many would argue that elderly should be excused on the account of their mental faculties not running as smoothly as they once did in their youth, of which I must ask two questions – Should we excused a serial killer or rapist actions on the same argument and are all elders regressing to a senile infantile state? While the first question is an (hopefully) resounding and clear “NO”, the second question is actually pointing towards the same answer as well. Time Online reported on Danish researchers who compiled in 2010 positive results in higher cognitive functioning of elders that were born in 1915 over results conducted in 1998 of those born in 1905. Not only are the elderly “getting sharper” but many are living longer due to increased welfare care and overall better nutritional lifestyles for a good portion of the older population. (Szalavitz, 2013) If we have so many sharper geezers that we have to live with, wouldn’t we want them to have the good manners that they can comprehend so we don’t have to live with prolonged rudeness and misbehavior?

The absolute notion of every elder deserving respect is just as antiquated as the notion that every woman should wear a blouse. The elderly are just as varied personalities as those of the youth, with varying degrees of respect (and temperament) owed onto each. To respect all elder blindly, would not only bother us youngsters into begrudged positions and patterns of thought, but would also be a disservice to those honorable elders who have to share their due respect with the riff-raff that claim such honors by virtue of the wrinkles of their skin and not by the caliber of their character. And that is something I cannot respect at all in American society.

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