08 August 2008

Should We Respect Our Elders?

Do the elderly really deserve our respect and admiration?
I was taught this my whole life, and believe it or not, I continue to hear this sentiment. Yet, "respecting your elders" seems to contradict another saying: "Respect is something you earn."

Have the elderly earned the youth's respect?
Before I continue, I must point out that I'm not talking about a general respect that you should show all living creatures. I'm talking about looking to the elder generation for their wisdom that has come from a life full of rich experiences.

With all our current crises ranging from healthcare to global warming, though, I wonder if the elder generation deserves our unquestioning respect. I say "no," our elders let us down in almost every way, especially in terms of our environment. They are squarely responsible for the mess we're in.

Plastic shopping bags
They are slowly being banned, starting with California's recent legislation. I remember when plastic bags first hit the shopping scene. They were all the rage, and still are.

As a Blockbuster customer, I am often asked if I would like a bag for my movie(s). Every time I'm asked this question, I chuckle. I mean, who would actually request a bag for their DVD? With no one in line behind me, I decided to interview the employee:
Me: "Do many people actually ask for a bag?"
Her: "Not many. Usually only if they have a ton of movies and some candy or soda."
Me: "Hmmm, do you ever have people who want a bag for one or two movies?"
Her: "Yeah, but not many."
Me: "Is there any specific demographic associated with those who do want a bag?"
Her: "What do you mean?"
Me: "You know... like an age, gender, or race."
Her: "Why do you want to know?"
Me: "Just wondering if my suspicions are correct."
Her: "Who do you think asks the most?"
Me: (Laughing) "Ah, I asked first..."
Her: (Looking around then pointing at an elderly man in the Drama section) "Mostly people like that."
Me: "Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me."
Just as I suspected. The very same people I'm still told to this day to respect are stuck in ecologically destructive patterns. Yet, these are the people I'm supposed to respect?

The rampant materialism, the propagation of a disposable society, these things epitomize the Depression Era and Baby Boomer generations. The Baby Boomers are slowly coming around to changing their ways, but those from the Depression Era ironically shun anything labeled as good for the Earth.

As with any demographic, there are certainly exceptions. In fact, without the radicals of past generations, we might not have progressed as far as we have. But in general, the elderly have squandered their respect quotient long ago. What wisdom do we have to gain from a culture based on rampant materialism and voracious homogeneity?

Respect the elderly? I don't think so, at least not until they start showing the youth some in return.

Some Elders We Should Respect
  • Allen Ginsberg - for changing and opening up the world of poetry for all
  • Noam Chomsky - for expanding our understanding of linguistics
  • Ralph Nader - for championing a change in our environmental policies
  • Rosa Parks - for challenging the racial status quo
  • Jane Fonda - for persisting to push for global causes
  • Ilona Staller - for pushing our conceptions of moral backgrounds

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