October 19, 2021

THE VALUE OF THE AGED

be nice to your kids“Learning acquired in youth arrests the evil of old age; and if you understand that old age has wisdom for its food, you will so conduct yourself in youth that your old age will not lack for nourishment.” Leonardo da Vinci

How different cultures treat their elderly is not a simple subject. Some basic differences exist between the Asian and Western countries. The influence of Confucius is reflected in the reverence that Chinese give the elders as it becomes part of their duty not only to respect and learn from their experience, but to care for them. Western cultures and in the United States specially, the referral of the aged to nursing homes is more prevalent. Other than tradition and religious values, reality has always been a determining factor for the differences in the lives of the older population. Poverty and “survival of the fittest”, forces many tribes around the world to abandon their elderly and also dispose of some of their children, especially the infirm. Also in many areas living conditions compel extended families to live together, in effect forming a unit that sustains a lasting protection for both the young and the old. Affluence in the modern society in turn fosters geographic detachment and an inability to help loved ones.

In a scientific rationale, the idea of an innate sense of duty from parents towards children and vice versa is more myth than reality. There are practical reasons that entice parents to teach their children to be independent, to earn for their sustenance and assume responsibility for their lives, as the burden of care becomes unbearable. On the flip side, the older members of the family provide knowledge, a source of historical facts, and a mirror where one can judge decision making and avoidance of mistakes. Science alone is incapable of understanding human behavior as it is also influenced by a diverse set of emotions and subjectivity.

Prosperity and the advance of technology have, in my opinion, negatively influenced the basis of society and in turn the care for the elderly. Family is the unit that establishes culture, and the erosion of this valuable piece of humanity is a determining factor in any relationship. A population without a traditional family, and provided by equipment that provides instant knowledge, where machines are used for communication instead of conversation, information instead of knowledge, solving mathematics instead of thinking, is one that considers itself entitled, and dependency to devices and government bodes badly for the future elderly. Our youth, so prone to be enticed by the the premise of collectivism, becomes dependent on the many to take care of them, not realizing that eternal youth is not possible, and when their cost to the majority exceeds their worth, the assistance they expect will not take place. The care for the elderly starts by the sense of responsibility that one assumes for our lives when young, and carries trough the different ages coming to an end with the ability to continue self sustaining, living independently, and enjoying the satisfaction that comes of having been able to live as a free being.
Fernando J Milanes MD

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