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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Respect for Elders

When we look up the term "respect: in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, we are provided with two definitions that pertain to the type of respect that is shown to elders. The first definition is "an act of giving particular attention (consideration). The second is "high or special regard (esteem).
If we take each of these definitions down one more layer, "consideration" refers to "thoughtful and sympathetic regard". For the term "esteem", the meaning is "the regard in which one is held; especially: high regard".

There are a number of reasons why the concept of "respect for your elders" is not just limited to this country; rather, it is a global concept that is held in both industrialized and developing countries. Many cultures have found that a key ingredient to a stable society is incorporating the value provided by those who have gone before us, the older generation as it were. They have knowledge and life experiences from having already traveled down the road of life upon which we are ready to embark. Thus, why re-invent the wheel? Why make the same mistakes they made? Why not learn from them to make our journey easier and more fruitful? Thus, we owe it them to provide us the knowledge they have gained so that we might build our future on the foundation of life they have already laid. Whether it is the development of new technology or passing of generational wisdom on how to hunt wild game in the bush of Africa, there is much we can learn from the older generation.

Our elders have also passed onto us their traditions. Whether these represent family heritage or national history, these traditions were crafted by those before us who felt the importance of selected life events as being a part of the societal fabric. From grandmother's holiday cookie recipe, to grandfather's skill with wood, to national holidays, to the how the holiday trees are to be decorated - all of these help define our family, village, and national identity. It is to this unique identity that we owe are for-bearers a measure of respect.

We are all familiar with the Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". The majority of elders are polite and generous with their time. Elders have lived enough years to realize that, while work was an important part of their lives, the true value that carries on after work and career is friends and family. They have lived long enough to have 'perspective'. Whether it is a child's respect for an adult or an adult's respect for a senior, the older of the pair has a perspective of life that the younger has yet to achieve. Thus, if we too desire to have the respect of those generations younger than we, we need to offer that same respect to those who are our elders. In other words, if we wish to receive respect, we must first give respect.

I am reminded of a recent news story in which some youth are engaging in an activity called the "knockout game". In this "game", which in realty is felony assault, the youth walk up to an unsuspecting person and attempt to render them unconscious with a single punch to the head. While victims are injured from the blow and subsequent fall, there have been some who have died from their injuries. One question for these young people causing all of this mayhem might be "How would you feel if, when you were in your 60's, a gang of youth surrounded you and used you as a punching bag?" All of a sudden, the Golden Rule takes on new meaning and the concept of respect for elders is reinforced.

As we mentioned earlier, elders bring stability to our society. Without them, people without experience or perspective would attempt to organize and control activity, analogous to "the patients running the asylum". As our society gradually emerged over the course of many generations, so too has knowledge and wisdom been accumulated by our elders for them to dispense to those of us wise enough to ask for their guidance. And, as each generation marches forward to become the eldest generation, that process of providing guidance, reinforced over many years, should continue the trend of the young seeking guidance from elders.

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