Respect your elders; you'll be one, too
--The steep and winding highway to life's end can be a joy or trainwreck, but it is inevitable. Once we step on that highway, there's no turning back. But I think we can pad that roadway with pillows of insight that may translate into better time...
The steep and winding highway to life's end can be a joy or trainwreck, but it is inevitable. Once we step on that highway, there's no turning back. But I think we can pad that roadway with pillows of insight that may translate into better times for us.
I say this after contemplating a Tuesday New York Times article, "In 'Sweetie' and 'Dear,' a Hurt for the Elderly." Writer John Leland calls "elderspeak" a sweet way of belittling or addressing older people. His research included interviews with people older than 50 to some in their 90s.
Some of the elders said they grimace when service providers call them "sweetie, dear or honey" because, the studies found, these comments were "insults that can have health consequences, especially if people mutely accept the attitudes behind them." The studies indicate if elders have a positive perception about aging, they live an average of 7.5 years longer, which is a bigger number than that associated with exercise and smoking.
So don't call me "sweetie."
The use of generic titles such as "dear and sweetie" is common with children. My daughter's son, Darren, visited a neighbor and girlfriend of my daughter often because she lived close by. When this friend offered Darren a glass of juice she'd say "juice, honey?" From her continued use of that phrase, when he came home he would say, "Namma, can I have a juice honey?" That always made me smile at him, and giggle when he was out of earshot.
It was humorous, yet touching, to be called "honey" by my 2-year-old grandson.
I do know that service and health providers sometimes call me honey, dear or sweetie. I assumed it was because they didn't know my name or forgot it. Some of these titles, on the other hand, can be cultural or regional and I know are not meant to belittle.
Do elders feel incompetent because we don't know how to use some of the new electronic gadgets? Not necessarily. It is an opportunity, I feel, when my young relatives can be helpful, and they generally like messing with electronics such as computers and cell phones. And I can do it, if I want to. I can read a manual, after all.
When I was a teenager, we were taught a different attitude about our Native American elders. Those teachings seem to be disappearing as we move into contemporary culture, but it wasn't that long ago when, as young women, we tended to elders with respect and reverence. They were a precious piece of our culture, the vessels of who we were, and they were close to the Creator.
I remember my sister and me helping prepare for a ceremony. When our aunts saw that an elder had arrived, we were pointed in their direction. We then would go outside to their cars and help them into the ceremony. If they had food or a donation, which they almost always did, we would carry it in for them. Then, as the meal began, we would serve them. Usually, people sat in a big circle and food was passed to them. They balanced the meal on their knees. And elders usually were served first.
It was expected that we would listen carefully to the elders. It was easy because elders treated us kindly, told us stories and usually had good senses of humor.
I remember when I first moved to the big city. I was amazed at how fast people talked and how little they listened. Someone told me when I first started working at the Herald that I was a good listener. I didn't say anything, but it got me thinking about how little people listened. It seemed to me that sometimes they were more interested in making their own point.
The Times article says people talk too loud to elders because they don't think elders can hear. That may be true. But speak loud and clear the first time so we won't have to ask you to repeat yourself. Make sure you're facing the person so you can tell if they don't hear you. I have excellent hearing -- probably more than a lot of young men and women who play their music so loud their ear drums must be worn.
Now I'm scolding like an elder.
I say keep your sense of humor because growing old can be really funny when you think about it. Treat the young with respect, see their spirits and remember they will reach the age of an elder one day -- if they're lucky.