Respecting the elderly

With society changing, the need to remind oneself of this tradition would be a healthy activity

Senior Citizens Day: While racism in all its forms is today considered taboo, the elderly are experiencing a type of discrimination not associated with the colour of their skin or religion but of age.

Ageism is the discrimination of a person on the grounds of his or her age. It marginalises older people and shifts them to the fringes of communities, often restricting them from social services.

To address ageing related issues in the country, Bhutan observed its first Senior Citizens Day on October 1 at the Zangdo Pelri in Changlimithang in Thimphu, coinciding with the UN International Day of Older Persons.

The Royal Society for Senior Citizens (RSSC), a civil society organisation observed the day with the lighting of 1,000 butter lamps and recitation of zangchoed moenlam at the Zangdo Pelri dedicated to HRH The Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck and all newborns.

Tsheten Zangmo, 75, who is a regular visitor to Zangdo Pelri was not aware of the day’s celebration. “I was told by my colleagues that they are reciting prayers for our Gyalsey,” she said.

After informing her of the importance of October 1 starting this year, tears rolled down the 75-year-old’s eyes. “At times when your own children leave you behind, it is good to know that there are people who care for this section of the society,” said Tsheten Zangmo.

Tsheten Zangmo and her husband had come to Thimphu four years ago to meet their son and family. Their son had gone out for studies two years ago and the two are currently babysitting their grandson most of the time.

“When I realise that we are getting older by the day, images of how we might die any day haunts me,” said Tsheten Zangmo. “We might die without even seeing our home back in the village which is under lock and key.”

The mother of five said that it is heartening to see people interested in looking after the elderly who are often neglected by society because of their age. “The only time I find peace is when I come here (Zangdo Pelri) and meet other elderly and share our memories of the past.”

RSSC member Dasho (Dr) Pema Thinley, the former vice chancellor of the Royal University of Bhutan said that unlike in the past, the concept of retirement is becoming a significant event with more people entering the “third age” group.

“There is a pool of knowledge, experience and wisdom within this group of elderly people,” said Dasho. “If you do not recognise this, it might just get lost,” adding that observing the day is important to draw people’s attention and educate them on the importance of this group of population. “We are all going to pass through this age. We need to pass this stage with dignity, honour and peace of mind.”

The chief guest at the celebration, Piet Vochten, acting United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bhutan highlighted the importance of addressing the issue of ageism. “Ageism is not only unfair, research shows that a negative attitude towards aging actually has a harmful effect on the health of older adults. Those with poor attitudes may live up to 7.5 years less than those with more positive attitudes.”

He said that the progress the country made in the past few decades is all because of the people who have now entered their third age. “If you want to look at the future, learn from the past. They have a life-long worth of experience in them.”

Piet Vochten added that it is important to observe Senior Citizen’s Day to pay respect to the elderly but at the same time there is no need for a celebration because respecting should be normal and it should be an everyday event.

For the Bhutanese respecting seniors comes almost naturally, said Piet Vochten. But he added that with a changing society, reminding oneself of the tradition is a healthy practise. “I wish I could retire in Bhutan,” he said.

Dasho Batu Karp, who turns 100 next year, also participated in the celebration and offered his prayers to HRH The Gyalsey and all new borns in the country. Dasho who started his service at the Royal Court of the second King at the age of nine contributed his service in several capacities as thrimpon and dzongdag in many dzongkhags.

“I would like to thank the Monarchs for this beautiful nation they managed to build for all Bhutanese,” he said.

Apart from difficulty in hearing, Dasho Batu Karp is as lively as any teenager and enjoys travelling and finds comfort in gardening.

Meanwhile, the eldery gathered at the Zangdo Pelri received healing services and medical care from the Norbu Healing Arts Centre and the national referral hospital staff.

Similarly, another 1,000 butter lamps and prayers were also recited at the Trashichhodzong to observe the day.

Younten Tshedup 

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    It’s unfortunate to know that the issues with ageism has reached a peaceful Buddhist nation like Bhutan. It may well have been a shock to even the UN officials. A ‘Senior Citizens Day’ is a new experience for the country, but even ageism has been an ageless issue in many other human societies across different ages of time.

    Loneliness can be a painful experience. Even Gautam Buddha had experienced that before his enlightenment. Young monks still try to experience it through long days of meditation in isolation. Probably a lonely young man or children look less disturbing to others than a lonely person in his or her older age. Young children don’t enjoy it much with the parents once they are among friends in schools. Young man and woman who are newly married struggle to give old friends more time; while today’s busy working couple just don’t find enough time for the children.

    With our societies getting busier and busier some don’t even get enough time to plan and have a complete family. So ageism is only going to get worse. When we will be truly old, there will hardly be a family left to make us feel like victims of ageism. We will be just old and painfully lonely.

    Memories and experiences of a long life don’t make it easy to make new friends at old age. So it’s actually nice to hear that a 75 years old woman and her husband have found new friends to share their own long memories visiting the Zangdo Pelri in Changlimithang. Even today’s youth find it difficult to make new friends and new beginnings once they are out of college and universities. A busy work life doesn’t necessarily mean an end to a lonely life.

    We still spend time on social media sites chasing down old memories or looking for fresh ways to pass time. It’s indeed unfortunate if a 100 years old person feels lonely and a victim of ageism. Even to die early is no solution.

    Respect for the elderly will come naturally only when we always keep our family values and bonding intact. That probably also demands that we have more time together as a family from the beginning till we become grand parents or great grand parents. And we hope that we don’t end up feeling pity for a lonely old person in the name of respect. This first ever Senior Citizens Day is definitely going to be more than just a pious hope in getting the respect back for the elderly ones in the society. A prayer for them is not complete unless we pray for the entire family.

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