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David Bouchier: No Respect

An elderly couple
Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay

Today is Respect for the Aged Day in Japan — but not here. On this special day the Japanese return home to visit and pay respect to their elders, and volunteers help out in their neighborhoods by making and distributing free lunch boxes to older citizens. Entertainments are provided by teenagers and children, and special nostalgic television programs are broadcast.

We don’t have a Respect for the Aged Day for the obvious reason that, as Rodney Dangerfield liked to say, we don’t get no respect. There was Grandparents Day, just last week on the 13th, but if you don’t happen to be a grandparent, but just old, you are out of luck. Nobody sends flowers or a card, still less a free lunch, although anyone who has survived all the hazards of life for so long surely deserves some recognition. I’ve been told, by very senior seniors, that things used to be different and that age used to command respect, although their memories may be playing tricks. Old people get less respect nowadays than old cars or old furniture, which at least may have monetary value. When did you last see an old person, however well-preserved, valued at tens of thousands of dollars in the Antiques Road Show? We admire ancient trees, elderly cats and historic buildings. What about historic people who are a living link with the past, and can even remember what life was like before the Internet?

The old have many archaic skills that may come in useful when the Internet collapses under the weight of Zoom meetings. We can teach the young folks how to write, and even how to read, without a computer, how to change a typewriter ribbon, how to send a message of any length using nothing more expensive than a piece of paper and an envelope, how to entertain themselves without video games or social media, how to take pictures without a smartphone and even how to make phone calls without one. Some talented people of my generation could and did run whole radio stations without a computer anywhere in sight, flew planes around the world without computers, and found their way from place to place using paper maps. But will anybody ask us to share these ancient skills? They will not.

What the aged get is not so much respect as resentment: because our vulnerability to COVID creates problems for everybody else, because we are a burden on the Social Security and Medicare systems, and because we have most of the money and real estate. No wonder we are unpopular, and no doubt irritating as well. We fail to remember our ever-changing passwords, fall victim to childishly obvious online crimes, read books, punctuate correctly and drive too slowly. It must be maddening.

It is a youthful society but, paradoxically, it is getting older all the time. Almost 50 million citizens are over 65 now, but there will be 95 million by 2060 or about a quarter of the whole population. So a few hard-working young people will (with luck) be supporting a lot of old people. If we get any respect at all in this situation it will have to be self-respect. And the great thing about self-respect is that we can have as much of it as we like, without ever needing to explain why.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.