Across the world, there is great value placed on intergenerational respect and the importance of family. Respect for elders is a prominent cornerstone of many cultures, with Greek, Chinese and Australian Aboriginal being a few stand-out examples.
However, in contemporary western culture, where there is increasing value placed on youth, this respect for elders is sometimes lacking. With studies showing that levels of depression and anxiety on the rise in older Australians, it’s time we remind ourselves why it’s important to respect our elders.
It creates a varied social set-up
In our youth-centric culture, the pressure to stay attractive and keep up with contemporary ideas not only adversely affects those in their older years, but also people in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
A society that recognises the contributions made by everyone, no matter what their age (and appearance, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background) makes for a varied social set-up. In a culture such as this, we move away from the superficial preoccupations of beauty, money and consumerism, and begin to gravitate towards more constructive ideas that focus on inclusion of the individual, the wellbeing of the community and overall social progressiveness.
The preserves the invaluable lessons of the past
Some of the most valuable lessons a person will learn come from their elders. Grandparents are carriers of history and culture and, as such, can teach us so much about who we are and from where we have come. Grandparents can do this through their stories, their perspectives on historical events and by passing on culturally specific knowledge about cooking, handicrafts, games, music and so much more.
All this knowledge is a gift that can continue to be handed down from one generation to another, keeping history intact and preserving important cultural traditions that may otherwise be forgotten in this forward-looking and rapidly paced society.
It fills us with a sense of wellbeing
We are all seeking to become happy and fulfilled people, tending to do this by filling our lives with ‘things’. In Buddhist mentality, you can’t find lasting happiness through the attainment of intransient objects. In other words, the happiness brought to you by objects can never last because you only end up wanting more and more of them.
Caring for others, particularly our elders, to whom we owe a great debt of respect for already having lived, is one of the only true ways to become happy. When we show love for a stranger by helping them carry their groceries to the car, we are filled with a sense of wellbeing. This good feeling can be enough to carry us happily through the whole rest of the day. It’s not a coincidence that this feeling of happiness has nothing to do with looking after our self, and everything to do with looking after someone else. Happiness comes from doing good for others instead of ourselves.
In what other ways can we show respect for our elders?