It’s a universal practice to teach all children, from the cradle up, that they ought to respect their elders. They’re taught not just to respect but also to be of help to the elderly, to tolerate their tempers, if ever the occasion arose, and to be kind and compassionate to them. It’s what I was taught, it’s the same lesson I teach my child and I think its a very important lesson in growing up because the older generation deserves our care and respect for having taken care of the younger generation. Without a doubt, the elderly are a goldmine of experience for the younger generation and in return, they deserve the same care, love and support that they gave to us.
I have come across discussions where people feel that generally, older people are being disrespected a lot more by the younger generation these days. While I agree with that to some extent, I can’t deny that I have also come across instances where some of the elderly, and I stress on the word ‘some‘ here, take the respect and deference that the younger generation gives them for granted, and some, in fact, go a step further by being downright disrespectful to someone younger only because they can and because they know that no one will retaliate owing to their age.
The reason why I bring up this issue today is because I came across a scene a few days back where an elderly lady I happen to know very well for years now, behaved very badly with a younger person only because she knew the young one was in no position to retaliate.
As I was told by this lady, let’s call her ‘X’, the problem arose because she had ordered some medicines from a pharmacist and when they were delivered there was a bunch of capsule strips where the expiry date and even the date of manufacturing had been artfully cut out. That is a form of malpractice, I’m aware, and I believe X had complained twice about this matter already to the concerned pharmacy from where she had obtained the said medicines. On the day of that incident, she and I had travelled together to that clinic because we needed to see the same doctor. While on her way out, X came to know that an employee of the same pharmacy was sitting in the waiting room of the clinic. She went up to the unsuspecting 20-something fellow and started blasting him about how their pharmacy is abusing its customers.
I was standing right next to her and I saw it all with my own eyes. That young fellow, let’s call him ‘Y’, was at first shocked, naturally because he wasn’t expecting something like this. Then he tried to diffuse the situation by smiling at X, but that only angered her even more and she retorted,
‘Don’t just smile at me and try to get away with it. Do you take us (she meant the customers) for fools? Have you no shame that you hand out such medicines? You are such a big brand and you indulge in malpractices. What do you think, we don’t have brains, that we won’t read, that we won’t notice? I am going to report you to blah, blah, blah…’
…at which point I just marched out of the clinic because I couldn’t stand to hear the loud, one-sided conversation anymore! I felt insulted that someone I know was talking trash to someone else only because they perceived themselves superior on account of their age, and maybe even because of their financial condition. Yes, the poor boy looked like he didn’t do too well financially, but not once did he protest or use harsh language against X. There was also the matter of being respectful to a customer.
I could hear her rage on inside the clinic for a solid 5 minutes even after I stepped out when all Y did was respond in soft, pacifying sentences. So clearly, money does not teach you good manners, but we’re not discussing that here.
This incident brought up two questions –
Does respect have anything to do with age?
Is respect something that should be demanded or earned?
In this situation, what I felt was that though X felt cheated and had genuine reasons for being angry at the pharmacy, she was wrong in talking down to an employee who was unrelated to the incident. To begin with, that employee wasn’t even at the pharmacy so obviously, he couldn’t have helped her in any way. Besides, she should have either ensured that she talked to the concerned person who had filled out her prescription (which is understandably difficult, even irritating, when you order stuff over the phone or through the internet) or she should have tempered her tone and made a formal complaint instead.
But this is not the only incident that forced this article out of me. I have several times been told, or have seen a younger person being talked down to by someone older from family or from among acquaintances by asserting that ‘we ought to keep quiet because we shouldn’t argue with the elderly’ or that ‘we don’t know any better because they have more experience than us‘, or even this – ‘you younger people are stupid‘! But these are all general statements.
An incident occurred to me a few weeks back when a relative older than me declared thus, “Do you think you know better than me? You should have asked me first but you guys never learn.” This was over my choice of curtains for my own home; I’m not exaggerating here! I did not retort at the time on account of respect for an older person and our relationship too but believe me, that incident riled me up so much that that night, I was Googling whether the older generation treats the younger generation disrespectfully. Then, a few years ago a much older family friend discredited my entire legal opinion over a commercial contract drafted by someone else, and called me irresponsible because he was a stickler for correct English and I had not marked out the grammatical mistakes in the contract, while I stressed that as long as the intent was clear in a contract, the correct usage of language and punctuation does not much matter (it is a fact that in India, most contracts have grammatical errors but the law pays no heed to grammatical errors as long as the intent is clear).
And as I write this, I recall another incident where my husband was subjected to similar treatment by a disgruntled elderly gentleman on the road who thought my husband had parked the wrong way and was literally hurling abuses at my husband. My husband finally spoke up, “The only reason why I’m not talking back is because of your age but don’t take the liberty of abusing my patience!”
There are many other incidents when someone older has unfairly used their ‘age’ in conjunction with their ‘superior position’ to force their opinion or get away with mistreatment – Teachers verbally thrashing students, parents forcing decisions on their children in the name of ‘knowing better’, bosses mistreating employees, richer folks demeaning poorer folks, diners at restaurants abusing busboys or waitresses, mistresses of a house mistreating their maids and servants just because they can, in-laws (I see you nod your head)!
I know a lot of you are going to disagree with me and point out how in the situations I’ve discussed above there wasn’t just the matter of age, but a matter of a notion of superiority in some other sense as well, but it can’t be denied that those people asserted their authority owing to their older age as well.
My point is if you know you’re right, if you know you’re more experienced than a younger person, you shouldn’t have to need the crutch of ‘age’ to defend or force your opinions. The younger lot has as much a right to their own opinions and make their decisions as the elderly do. And besides shouldn’t the older generation set an example by being more accepting, or at the very least being tolerant towards adverse opinion? If I don’t respect my child and her opinions, why will she respect mine in return? If I need to teach her that we ought to respect others, shouldn’t I start by setting an example by being respectful myself?
Just as one can’t demand respect just because he/she is a woman or a man, or just because he/she is an influential person, or just because he/she superior in any way, similarly one ought not to demand respect just because he/she is older. I think this is a very wrong notion and a wrong precedent too that just because you have age on your side you can get away with mistreating people or demand respect. I can’t tell my younger brother to shut up only because I’m older than him. That would be wrong of me. At the same time, if my older sister forced her decision on me just because I’m younger, she is setting a bad example for me to follow.
Respect can never be demanded; it’s always earned.
Respect is a two-way road –
You get as much as you give, no matter what your stature or age is.
There’s only one situation in which you can DEMAND respect: if you are a human being. Wait, sorry, let me correct myself. Even beasts and birds have the right to our respect.
So the next time you find someone telling you, unjustly, that they demand your respect just because they’re older, tell them RESPECTFULLY, what I once told an older person –
Respect has nothing to do with a number but everything to do with your behaviour.
Be respectful to others if you want respect.
Copyright ©2018 Pradita Kapahi.
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