There was a time when the elders in our society were revered, even deified. But now, more than ever, the world is geared towards the young, leaving the elderly mired in irrelevancy.
Confucianism—a system of philosophy and ethics based on the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius—holds on high a central tenet called “filial piety,” reverence and veneration for the elderly.
Yet, even the country from which this noble dogma arose has seemingly lost its way when it comes to the veneration of its elders. And China is not alone.
Over the last few millennia, across the globe, the aged in society have gone from beloved figures and precious societal resources to residual burdens. This is both on a community-level and familial level.
Grandma and grandpa are tucked away in nursing homes and retirement communities, alienated and insulated from the lives of their progeny.
This can be attributed to changes in both civilization and human psychology. In the rough, demanding world of primeval man, with life brutishly short, those in old age were seen as extraordinary, embraced with an almost religious glorification.
With the technological and medicinal advances that came through the ages, life expectancy increased. Empirical breakthroughs, along with the simple increase in old people as a result, diminished the aura of the “elder.”
Even the terminology—“elders” are now referred to as “the elderly”—represents a dramatic shift in our collective outlook.
On a more intimate level, the decline of the elder’s role in the modern family, especially in the West, is a visible one. It has been discovered that some of the earliest humans prioritized care for the elderly (in a world where it would be much easier not to), even chewing their food for them when their teeth would fall out.
Contrast that to now, specifically in the first world, where the majority of the elderly feel forgotten and cast aside.
In this increasingly fast-paced digital world, filled with futurists and billionaire 20-somethings, it is crucial to maintain a place for those that have that one factor which can’t be replicated through binary code: life experience.
As Pulitzer Prize winning scholar Jared Diamond has noted, “The repositories of knowledge are the memories of old people. If you don’t have old people to remember what happened 50 years ago, you’ve lost a lot of experience for that society.”
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