The modern free market economy dictates that consumerism continues at a certain pace; the constant cycle of buying and selling, discarding and renewing is what greases the wheels of capitalist society. The best examples of the mind boggling speed at which goods are discarded in favor of new ones are mobiles and laptops; although easily repairable, many are added to the ever growing electronic rubbish heap in the world. At what stage, however, did the elderly also come to be included among the heaps of discarded “products”?
An article in the media recently highlights the plight of the elderly population of China who are, apparently confined to “orphanages” by family members who having dumped them in their new “homes”, march off into the sunset never to be seen again. The photographs accompanying this horrific article depict the elderly who are waiting for the day when they will meet their makers. The deep sadness, melancholy and hopelessness etched onto their faces don’t seem to disturb anyone as ever more inmates continue to arrive at these institutions every day. The situation is not unique to China however.
In many parts of the developed and developing world where everything needs to be finished yesterday, the pace of life has become truly punishing. Modern life is a vortex that no one can seem to escape; people are sucked in and continue to whirl around with the other cogs in the system. There is no time, in such a life, to devote to anyone or anything which is not a part of the system like children, and especially the elderly. The former have their lives mapped out for them with every millisecond accounted for and the latter are dumped in care homes or with residential carers. Yet have our grandparents “outgrown their usefulness” whatever that may be, and at what point did they cease to be parents and grandparents and become expendable products?
Anyone who can state, hand on heart, that the elderly have no useful role to play in our lives is either blind or supremely lacking in the upper quarters or more probably both. Age equals experience which in turn means patience and tolerance. Let us be honest; who is more likely to snap at you for a minor mishap; your mother or your grandmother? And where would we all be if all we got was the impatience and perfectionism which was not offset by the more relaxed and tempered approach of the elderly? Who would provide us with wise advice which is a result of a life well spent if the elderly were all isolated from the next generation? Usefulness in the sense described in that famous Japanese dystopia “The song of Norayama” is nothing to be admired or emulated; it is to be abhorred. In the said film, those who reach the age of 65 and are deemed “no longer useful” are carried up a mountain and left to starve to death. We too starve the elderly: we starve them of the love and respect they deserve after a life devoted to guiding us through the ups and downs of our life.
“Thou shall not kill” said the Lord and we may be quite sure that “Thou shall not torment or torture” was taken as a given when Moses delivered this message. We need to respect and support those to whom we owe a debt of gratitude that no amount of care can possibly repay. In a humane and compassionate society, no one deserves to be left behind. Those who showered us with love and attention giving up their dreams and ideals to help us lead better and happier lives deserve our eternal gratitude. Anyone who disagrees is to be abhorred and cannot be considered quite human.