BY ANDREW MCDONALD
CULTURAL differences are plentiful between West and East. Some things are better here, others there and a myriad of nuances exist which are neither superior nor inferior but which fit in with the ambiance of their surroundings. The world is beautiful because it’s different. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other.
One area of learning we could benefit from in the West is how we view our older citizens. In times gone by, yet not all that long ago, people of a certain age were valued for the great deal of life experience they had. In modern parlance “they had been there, done that and bought the t-shirt”. Nowadays, in a seemingly desperate crusade for modernisation, which has at its root the chase of money, we often dismiss the lessons and guidance those more advanced in age can offer.
Compare common perceptions of older people in the West and East today. In cultures belonging to the former, concepts such as old-fashioned, past it and outdated proliferate. In the latter, wisdom, sound judgement and understanding are perhaps the prevailing ideas.
You name it, older people have done it. They’ve parented, worked and built careers, fostered communities and societies, cared for others and if we think of advancements which have occurred since they were our age, it was frequently our seniors who crafted them. We not only do them an injustice by disregarding them, we do ourselves a disservice.
If we want a glaring example from history of what can happen when we ignore our elders, contrast Roman and post-Roman society in Europe. Ancient Rome developed an early form of the newspaper, modern plumbing and sanitary management, arches to build structures, central heating, aqueducts, the first surgical tools and developed concrete for strengthening buildings. Every modern stadium is, to a greater or lesser degree, modelled on the Colosseum. That huge arena held up to 80,000 and was able to empty completely within 25 minutes. Were it in use today it would be approximately the ninth biggest European stadium. Following Rome’s collapse, the Dark Ages arrived and these developments were lost for several centuries. We would do well to pay attention to such occurences. As Spanish philosopher George Santayana stated “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
There is a danger, of course, in becoming too nostalgic. It would be silly to suggest there was nothing bad when our elders were younger. So too to moot the idea that we haven’t improved anything. However, given that many of us bemoan the loss of things senior citizens held dear in their youth like respect, manners or a sense of community, we should make more of an effort to learn from, rather than ignore, them. Perhaps that simple act would go a long way to adding a bit of the kindness which many decry as being in short supply in today’s society.