January 21st, 2008

ozarque figure

Eldering; about that Generation Gap; part three...

I'm not sure, really, where to begin. Maybe by quoting some of you and letting you lead me through this....

red_tanya commented:
" 'respect your elders', as I've heard it, has always meant special deference beyond just courtesy. It means not contradicting that person in public and possibly not in private, either. It means following that person's instructions and accepting assistance or advice whether you requested them or not. It means not interrupting, touching casually, or standing too close to that person. It means shut up and follow instructions. My family is half Southern U.S. and half Great Lakes area; perhaps this is regional somehow? So, yeah, the way I hear it, it's something special that I don't think should be automatically conferred on just anyone."

I understand this description of "special deference beyond just courtesy"; I've heard it all my life, and perhaps it is regional. But I would suggest that the list of behaviors isn't exactly what it seems, particularly with regard to "shut up and follow instructions." The index to previous posts on eldering in this journal, where there've been a number of discussions of this issue in the past, is at http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=ozarque&keyword=Eldering&filter=all ; see, for just one example, the "Ozark English pragmatics" post at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/65872.html , where you'll find a discussion of these three hypothetical dialogues:

Elder: "If you'd cut that dreadful hair of yours, you'd look ten years younger!"
X (with the dreadful hair): "It's such a beautiful day, don't you think?"
Elder: "Might as well talk to my elbow."
X: "In fact, I believe we could go sit on the porch."
Elder: "I'd like that."

That's the ideal outcome. If it doesn't work, the next step down is to go to platitudes and abstractions. Like this:

Elder: "If you'd cut that dreadful hair of yours, you'd look ten years younger!"
X: "Hair can certainly make a difference in the way a person looks. I've noticed that myself."
Elder: "Well, I'm glad to hear it."

When that also doesn't work, we give up and Level -- being very careful to use neutral or friendly body language. Like this:

Elder: "If you'd cut that dreadful hair of yours, you'd look ten years younger!"
X: "Hair can certainly make a difference in the way a person looks. I've noticed that myself."
Elder: "Then why do you keep on wearing it that way?"
X: "I like it like this, Aunt Leonora. I know it distresses you, but it's what I like."
Elder: "Honestly! You young people just amaze me!"
X: "Yes, ma'am. I know we do."

I hope to be able to go on communicating with my elders in the fashion demonstrated in those three dialogues for the rest of my life. That hope may not be realized, because the day may come when my mind fails me; I'm as vulnerable to that as any other human being. But I can hope.

dichroic commented:
"My feeling on a lot of this is that if you want respect and love when you're old, you need to spend the whole earlier part of your life preparing that ground. ... If you want respect as an elder, you need to spend your formative years being worthy of it, and too many current elders (as a generation, not as individuals) haven't."

And kelsied commented:

"I think this is a hard issue to discuss, because at a basic level, we all agree that people should be treated with respect -- regardless of age. But when you start talking about 'respecting your elders' those of us who have had really bad experiences with it start to wonder just what exactly you mean by 'respect.' There are some people who are old, and who are either so prejudiced, or so mean-spirited, that it's just horrible dealing with them. They get my courtesy. Of course they do. But honestly, I have a lot of trouble respecting them. Abuse isn't okay, no matter how old you are... "

I agree that this is a hard issue to discuss; thank you, one and all, for helping with this discussion. I agree wholeheartedly that abuse is never okay, not at any age; it causes me much sorrow that many elders are, as kelsied accurately points out, horrible to deal with. I wish that were not the case. And I understand the comments, from kelsied and others, about wondering just what exactly I mean by "respect."

Let's see if I can explain that well enough for it to make at least minimal sense to you. I don't just mean that I feel obligated to behave toward my elders as if I respect them -- when they turn out not to be "worthy of it" -- although I hope [see above] to be able to go on doing that as long as I live, and to have the strength of character to do that. But that's not what I mean by "respect."

I do in fact respect my elders simply because they are my elders. Being old is hard. It's terribly hard. The older you are, the harder it gets, and the harder it is to resist the temptation to simply give up in total despair or total apathy and dwindle away. It is especially hard for elders who themselves live with elders who are horrible to deal with, as is so very often the case. I respect those around me who are truly old and who still manage to get through their days and their nights -- on that basis alone. I'm not trying to persuade you to do that; my word on it. But it's the way I perceive the world, and I abide by it as best I can.