Tattoos are often seen as a form of rebellion. I suppose when I got mine at the ripe old age of 55 it could have been a sign of that.
1. You Only Realize Things as You Get Old Yourself
Respect for old people starts with really listening to them but let's face it—younger people rarely listen properly. At 63, I don't consider myself that old, but even I can see our accumulated children glazing over when my husband or I ramble on, even if we manage not to talk about the various health problems that have started to afflict us.
2. Listening Skills Are Important
The trouble is older people often repeat themselves. You may have heard the story they are telling before, many times—many, many times. And of course, older people often repeat themselves. Or did I just say that?
Seriously, it is important to try to stay engaged when old people tell you things. For one thing, it is simply basic good manners, and for another, you might just hear something to your benefit. Their retelling of their life experiences may well provide the wisdom you are seeking. "There is nothing new under the sun," as the old saying has it, and this is certainly true of emotions and life dilemmas. Someone has always been there, done that, and knitted the cardigan before you.
3. Old People Should Be Respected
And no, I don't mean just because they have managed to live a long time. Everyone should be afforded a certain degree of respect. It is, after all, the basis of civilization, although it may be that the degree of respect will vary.
While it is true that the depth of respect can be subjective and even conditional and may not necessarily seem to be the due of some elderly folk, I would argue that as compassionate beings, we should give them the benefit of the doubt, even the obnoxious ones. After all, you cannot be sure that their obnoxiousness is who they really are. The early stages of dementia can warp a previously loveable person's character out of all recognition.
Recording the Memories of the Elderly
There are two other important reasons for listening respectfully to old people besides the fact that they may have the answers for which you are looking. One is the fact that their lives are now history.
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Modern life has changed out of all recognition in a very short time, and the memories of my 1950s childhood, for instance, are now a history of another way of life, a life that may seem almost unbelievable to the technology-laden youth of today. This was also true of my youth when I found it hard to take in the family stories of crushing poverty that my forebears had endured as they grew up.
Would we have learned anything about how a civilized society should be run if the survivors of two world wars and, in particular, the Holocaust, had not told their stories to someone who listened? There is usually some tantalizing nugget of information in the reminiscences of old folk from which something can be learned about the past and where we came from.
Listen—Are They Asking for Help?
The second important reason for listening to elderly people is to see if, in some oblique way, they are asking for help. Because many of our old people today are the last gasp of a proud and fiercely independent generation, they often find it difficult to ask when they need help. So this requires a careful sort of listening, a sort of "listening between the lines" if you like, a more intuitive sort of listening, and we neglect to listen carefully at our peril, for it can lead to a heavy burden of guilt.
I first became aware of this problem when my mother started to ask me if I would ever think of moving back to Yorkshire, where she was living. I had moved 400 miles away a few years earlier, and unthinkingly, I replied that I could not see myself ever moving back there. Only as her health problems got slowly worse did I realize that that question was, in fact, a cry for help. She was having difficulties, and rather than admit it and ask me outright for the help she needed, she framed it as what appeared to be a casual question.
What later convinced me of this was when I found out that she had also asked my brother the same question as he too lived many miles from her. By the time we both realized her predicament, she was having to be moved to a home suffering from the first signs of dementia. I still live with the guilt of not recognizing what she was really saying.
Have I Made You Think?
So now I'm 63, and I ache after a hard day's gardening and sometimes forget what I went upstairs to fetch but I do have concern for other people, both young and old. I try hard to respect them and to really hear what they are saying. It is the lesson that was my mother's legacy, and it is important to me. I would like it to become important to you too.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.