There is a growing perception among the middle-aged and elderly that the younger generations are showing less respect for those older than them.
Exposed to modern education, a predominantly western media and culture, and the demands of one of the fastest growing economies in the region, we’re seeing our children mature faster.
Other cultures that have practised filial piety have seen their traditionally hierarchical structures flattened to more horizontal ones as such exposure occurs.
But there are other effects that occur. With better medical care, we’re living longer. As a result, the elderly population will increase. As the economy improves, there will be more jobs. Competition for these limited jobs will only intensify further.
We’re already seeing the more disturbing effects of this change: it is mostly only the elderly left in the villages. We already hear a few stories of elderly parents either neglected or abandoned by their children.
We’ve always respected our elders. It’s a part of our culture and tradition. We refer respectfully to members of the elderly as agay or angay in recognition of the experience and wisdom they’ve gained. We’ve other terms like au, ashim, acho, asha, among others, to identify which rung of the ladder we are on.
It’s not limited only to titles. We accord the elderly the best seat. We serve them ahead of all others and in the best utensils. We make sure they can get to Bodhgaya every year, no matter the costs. We care for them as they once took care of us when we were younger.
“But the times, they are a-changin”.
We must prepare and it must start at home. As parents, we must set an example. We must practise what we ourselves would expect as we hit the twilight of our lives. There is no better example than seeing it done.
As elders, we must also understand that not all forms of traditional behaviour can survive. The demands of society change and, with that, behaviour. The younger generations will be more outspoken. They will question certain traditions.
What matters is that the essential core of our culture of reverence for elders survives. Our children must understand why we take care of the elders. There are many reasons. It’s a part of our tradition but it’s not because of tradition. At the core of it is simply that it’s the right thing to do as a human being.