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David Bouchier: A Few Well Chosen Words

David Bouchier: No Respect

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You may have missed the fact that tomorrow, Sept. 15, is "Respect for the Aged" Day, but only in Japan. When I saw this in my calendar of useless dates, my first thought was that we could use some Respect for the Aged here in America. A good start would be to begin calling us "aged," or even "old" instead of that irritating term "seniors." The notion of seniority gets us off on the wrong foot, suggesting the overweening power wielded by "senior" members of Congress, for example. "Old" is a statement of fact: "senior" is a claim to authority. In these democratic times, nobody loves authority.

Age and authority used to go together. That was when a lifetime of experience added up, like books in a growing library, so that older people really were wiser. Now, any knowledge we happen to acquire is made obsolete next week or next minute, so that most people know less than their kids and old people know nothing at all. Nothing worth knowing, that is: about computer games, or the sex lives of vampires, or the cutting edge of Hip Hop music. To be old today is not to be wise, but to be ignorant, lost in the ever-expanding database of the twenty-first century. The elderly are perpetually behind the times. They claim to be seniors, but they are really eternal freshmen, or fresh persons, in the modern world.

The elderly also intimidate the young by their sheer numbers. There are about five million people over 85 now; there will be eight million in 2020 (that will be my cohort, if I make it that far); and nineteen million by 2050 by which time there may be only two workers left to support every pensioner. It is going to take a lot of mental discipline for so few overworked young people to respect all those comfortably retired old people.

Older Americans need a spin doctor. They would scarcely notice the bill, tagged on to the end of all the other doctor's bills. They need to modify the pervasive feeling that the elderly have had a pretty good deal these past fifty years, and that being old is even fun. This is partly the fault of glossy productions like the AARP Magazine that celebrate the pleasures of retirement. Such magazines are full of unlikely geriatrics, eighty going on thirty?two, doing exciting and challenging things, or relaxing in beautiful surroundings - with not a crutch or a diaper or a hearing aid anywhere in sight. This fantasy image of the elderly living in a kind of earthly paradise tends to make younger people, who are paying the bills, a little uncharitable, and sometimes even lacking in respect.

So a "Respect for the Aged Day," like the one the Japanese celebrate tomorrow, might help to put the negative image right. But then again perhaps not. The Japanese are famous for their respect for the aged. Why do they need a special day to remind them to honor their ancient relatives? Well, it seems that, even in Japan, respect for the aged is wearing thin. Young Japanese are getting restless about the traditional reverence for old age, and they too are worried about the future burden of caring for a huge elderly population. They don’t like their old people much. That’s why they need a "Respect for the Aged Day."

I should have known. Once you have a special “day” for something, it's the infallible sign of a lost cause. Think of some of the others: Labor Day, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Columbus Day, President’s Day. We don't need an "Eat Pizza Day" or a "Sleep late on Sunday Day" because these things come naturally. When something has a day named after it, whatever it is, it won't get no respect.

Copyright: David Bouchier.