The type of culture around elderly I really dislike -By Rees Chikwendu

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Rees Chikwendu


There are certain attitudes and practices around aging that can make old age “a crown of beauty” or an aversion, depending on the society and culture. In Western society old age is often depicted negatively, making it become a shameful experience for the aging ones, and creating an obsession about youth. I am not a fan of this culture. Because I believe elderly people should be treasured – especially when they have given their vitality to building a better future for the next generation. But what about in societies where the elderly or old ones are like the locusts that eat away the future of the generations that follow, are they too supposed to be venerated or celebrated?

No doubt, the elderly in any society should not be cast aside just because their vitality has waned. And regardless of their contribution to the society, they should be respected and treated with care. However, those elderly who worked hard to achieve and to leave a better future for the next generation earn my deep respect. Upon the shoulder of this type of aged ones rests the future of the youth of any society. They are the ones who have fought for the next generation with a vision for a better future. This is particularly true in most Western societies, where attitudes with regards to time are based on developing a better future for the next generation. Those old ones with this wisdom are the type of elderly deserving of honor in the society. It is unfortunate that in Western society, many of such aged ones are cast aside when their vitality wane.

Understand: this does not apply to every individual or family in Western societies. It is based on general perception and attitudes towards aging process and the elderly.

Another reason that I have high esteem for elderly in Western society is because their old people acknowledge that the present reality of their society belongs to the youths. Therefore, they do not live in the future of their youths. After having given their best to the society, at old age, they are willing to use the wisdom and experience they have accumulated to serve in advisory capacity when their youth calls them to do so. They understand it is the right and responsibility of the youths of their society to shape the contours of their time. This understanding is in itself great wisdom. Because it takes wisdom to know when you are no more at your best and to give others the opportunity to serve and to be relevant based on the necessity of the time. So, most old ones in Western society do not cling to relevance even when they are no more competent. They know the future belongs to the next generation, and the generations that follow. This is why there are so many young achievers and CEOs. This is why the faces that grace most offices in Western world are that of young people. Theirs is a society of achievement. No time to keep recycling old men who should be enjoying their pension.

Of course, the attitudes and practices of achievement and obsession about youth have their negative effects. They contribute to the prejudices towards elderly. But we must weigh its utilitarian benefits, which give young and ambitious people the opportunities to shape their time. It creates a society of achievement and one that does not squelch the talents of its young people. This is part of the philosophies that has given the West its economic and political edge compared to the rest of the world. It does not keep recycling its ineffective and incompetent old ones whether they are ‘storehouse’ of wisdom or not.

On the contrary, in most African societies, there is an ingrained veneration of aged ones that has turned into some form of stupidity. Most Africans honor their elderly because they associate wisdom and closeness to God to them, therefore even when the elderly is farting and shitting on the future of their children, they still deserve to be venerated by the young. In fact, questioning an elderly that is obviously fooling around can be perceived as disrespect. Honestly, I am not a fan of this type of culture that does not build youth capacity, and tolerate elderly people pooing on the future of generations that follow.

Indeed, elderly people can have accumulated experience and wisdom, but being older is not the guarantee for acquisition of wisdom or experience. It does not also mean that the old will at all time be the torchbearer (or light-bearer) for the young. The point that most Africans who associate wisdom with old age are missing is that wisdom has to be earned through hard work, education, and moral living. It does not come with age alone. Even the Scripture supports this argument: “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31). So, old age is not equal to wisdom.

The problem I have with most African societies is that many old people do not earn the status of respect of virtuous living but still want to be venerated. Most old people take inappropriate and excessive advantage of the ingrained culture of respect for elderly thereby denying young people the opportunity to be relevant and their right to shape the time they live in. This is why even when the old ones are thieves, liars, rapists, killers, cheats, etc. they still want the youths to accord them respect. Unfortunately, most youths, ignorant and misinformed, believe it brings them God’s blessings to keep showing respect to such old ones – those destroying the future of their children.

Unsurprisingly, from Nigeria to Ghana, Uganda to Liberia, Zimbabwe to South Africa, you have pot-bellied, uneducated, incompetent, and imbecilic old men and women who have refused to allow young people to shape the contours of their time. All over Africa, in all sectors of the society, you have old men and women who are not sowing for their children to reap. Instead you have old men and women who want to have-it-all-now and damn the future of the next generation. They cling to positions of power and continue to recycle themselves, while youths and talents are wasting. Consequently, Africa has become a laughingstock and continent that lags behind while the rest of the world is moving forward.

Looking at Africa, these old men – Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Jacob Zuma of South Africa, etc., do they look like men with wisdom and experience? Do they look like men who can shape the contours of the time we live? Their incompetence stinks. The lives of these ones are not spent in service to leave a better future for the young ones rather they are there to serve their selfish interests. I don’t thing they are the type of old people deserving of honor. It is time for the youths of Africa to stop honoring corrupt and incompetent old men who are destroying their society. Young people in Africa have to know that old age is not equal to wisdom, and old people should earn their respect by virtuous living not by mere gray-head.