Ageing as Ex-Vogue
By Liz O’Phaelon
Survivors and Heroes
They have survived this journey called life. Some have worked half a century or more, contributing to the economic, cultural, and social welfare of their native country. Some have raised babies that have further contributed. Some have fought in wars to protect our very lives and freedoms. Most are heroes that have taught us lessons from their own experiences as humans. From this we can conclude, that older adults are some of the world’s most precious assets. Why then don’t we nurture these invaluable resources?
It seems at times we will go to great efforts to care for an expensive, silk outfit that requires the most delicate of care. But when our ageing citizens need us in their vulnerabilities, we not only dismiss them but also disdain their weaknesses. If older adults were soft-cheeked, curly haired, babes that gurgled and smiled at us, we would care for them with pride and love.Somehow the older citizens of the world have fallen out of fashion – ex vogue. This global phenomenon of youth as a style preference has alarming consequences for all the generations, young and old. For now, the senior adults of the world are being forgotten and that is sad and tragic. But if the younger generations do not protect the valuable resources of mature adults, then their own future may be a risk.
The United Nations and their Principles for Older Persons
In 1982, the United Nations felt it necessary to respond to the world and its current conditions for the ageing population by launching an International Plan on Ageing. By 1991, the United Nations Principles for Older Persons was adopted by the General Assembly. It spoke of protecting the rights of older citizens of the world. These rights included the basic necessities of food, housing and medical care. It further spoke to the issues of age discrimination and asked that the world adopt better inclusive policies to their older communities. Finally, the Principles for Older Persons as issued by the United Nations asked the world to respect the dignity of its ageing population. (www.un.org)
A Journey Around the World
India.According to a site, www.seniorindian.com, there are set guidelines for living after 60 in India, both for the senior citizen and the community at large. On the site, there is a prescription for the “child-senior relationship”. It speaks very plainly that caring for the elderly is a societal duty of the country. That regardless of the “social problems” that occur when caring for a parent, it is a reciprocating familial task that must be respected. In turn, the grandparent role to small children of the family is also viewed as an honorable obligation. If both parents are working, than the grandparent is expected to care for the small children of the house. The site also describes the great benefits of the older adult in relation to their grandchildren. Not only does India view the role of grandparents as caretakers to their grandchildren, but also as teachers of the moral, cultural, social aspects of Indian life.
China.In documentation available on China, there is a similar pattern of family nuclearization as in other countries as the younger generations continue to move away or to the cities. The typical result is that the older family members got left behind to fend for themselves. But in teachings of Confucianism, which has a central place in China, it likens the caring for elderly as something close to holy. But here it is not the reciprocity of you caring for a parent that cared for you. Rather it is seen as reciprocal to your own want to be cared for when you are old. There are also many examples of leaders that are elderly in China, such as Mao and the “eight elders” during Tiananmen in 1989. Ancestral worship continues today, where the deceased patriarch who might have liked to drink beer in his lifetime, is left a can a day in his honored shrine. Women in China move to more equality in old age, especially if she has borne sons. (“’Active Ageing’ and China: A Critical Excursion” Powell and Cook, www.sincronia.cucsh.udg.mx)
United States.Mobilization of youth away from older parents and communities is most prevalent in this Capitalist society. The trend in the U.S. is senior adults living in nursing homes to be cared for by paid workers. The conditions of nursing home vary from privately funded to a combination of Medicare, liquid assets and remaining pensions. The other trend in elderly in America, especially in the latest Baby Boomer retirees, is to prepare themselves autonomously for this stage of life. Retirement communities where there are varying amenities of medical support and recreation facilities are very popular. As the pension system in the big corporations collapsed in the 1980s, self-directed 401k plans became necessary to supplement the dwindling social security.
Africa.Africa and its elderly have the greater global challenge. Africa has the highest levels of poverty and incidence of HIV/AIDS. The senior adults in this country are burdened with caring for grandchildren of deceased parents. They are sometimes without resources even at the level of quality water or proper garbage disposal. The governments of Africa are working towards improving conditions but struggle with even getting accurate ageing population data after the end of apartheid.
I am not sure what will bring older people back into vogue. It seems the television, although an awesome invention did usurp the need for the wise, family storytellers found in grandpa and grandma. Maybe they need a TV reality show. Let us imagine a series called, “The Game Of Life”, where senior citizens compete with stories that they tell to a captive audience each evening. The story that is the most enlightening, wins the prize money. Certainly getting voted off the show would not bother this sturdy demographic that already lays in exile.
Life is truly a cycle of beginning as helpless infants, and returning to that most simple state of being. I think in India and China they have the most ethical view of life. Life is a cycle that comes back to you. You were fed and clothed, and sheltered so it is only right to do the same. If you want to be cared for when you are old, you better do right by the senior adults in your own life. It is life’s Karma. Caring for the elderly should simply be a duty, and an honorable one at that. In return, the treasure chest of storytelling will open up again, and the wisdom of the ages will pour forth like gold and silver. Maybe in rescuing the aged, we will save ourselves.