In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare penned that, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” We could debate the context of that proclamation, or we can just use it as the starting point for a conversation about how we are perceived as we age.
I’m seventy years old. Am I officially elderly? Did I cross that threshold years ago and just didn’t know it yet? Or…am I a distinguished person whose life and experiences are valued? That depends in large part on your perspective.
In the American culture youth is valued. Actually that’s really quite an understatement! As we baby boomers age, the market for face creams, cosmetic surgery and other harbingers of the illusive fountain of youth continues to grow. Someone near and dear to me has laughingly professed that each night she washes a hundred dollars’ worth of makeup off her face!
A message that implicitly runs loud and clear in the American culture is that we lose our value as we age. We might be thought of as a fossil, an old goat, over the hill, or even decrepit. (Yikes!) The list goes on and on.
But wait! Some cultures actually do value aging! In an article in the Huffington Post aptly entitled 7 Cultures that Celebrate Aging and Respect Their Elders, author Taylor French shares that…
• Koreans are socialized to respect and show deference to older individuals.
• In ancient Rome, elders were a precious resource.
• In India, elders are the head of the family.
• In the Native American culture…elders are respected for their wisdom and life experiences.
• In Greek…culture, old age is honored and celebrated, and respect for elders is central to the family.
I feel a little better now! Words to describe “the elderly” in some cultures might include revered, respected, honored, distinguished, esteemed or…my personal favorite…celebrated! Regardless of how “the world” views us or chooses to describe us, we must always be “crystal-clear” about our own true value.
As Eartha Kitt once said, “Aging has a wonderful beauty and we should have respect for that.”