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On Age and Society

An Essay By Trevor Stone

March 1997, Junior Year, New Vista High School

Our society has some serious misgivings about age. We legally don't consider children under 18 (or 21) as people, but as dependents, almost like pets. Once people reach 65, they are then considered old farts, people past their prime that must be taken care of. Adults put their children in schools, partly for them to learn and partly so they can be baby-sat. Adults put their aging parents in nursing homes, not caring to share with them and take care of them like they took care of those who are now adults. Life in our society consists of being a kid who yearns to be an adult, a period of being an adult, and being past adulthood, wishing to be young again.

Virtually every society up until the time of the industrial revolution cared deeply for its children and elders. Children have a whole life in front of them and should be carefully directed to learn about it. Elders have a lifetime of experience behind them that they can share. In fact, many cultures would turn the children over to the elders to learn while the adults gathered food, fought battles, and did other things that require a well developed but not yet decaying body to carry out.

Many of these relationships between generations exist today in groups of people who may be less technologically advanced but who remain more socially developed. Many families in Latin America, for instance, will have children, parents, and grandparents all living in one house. The children listen and learn from their parents, who are the primary money earners, and all listen to the wisdom and ideas of the grandparents. Adults take care of their elders because they know their own children will take care of them when they are older. In places like the United States, a portion of people's money is saved so that they can pay to be put in a elder home, just as their parents did. Recently, each generation has rebelled against the thoughts and ways of their elders almost without consideration. While there has certainly been justification for this rebellion, it means the members of the rebelling generation have also failed to learn things of importance. And those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.

Not that there isn't some level of care taken in our society. Many people have learned things from their grandparents; many people take care of their elders, and many parents spend lots of "quality" time with their children. My family has taken care of my grandmother for six years, a significant burden but definitely bearable, until recently at which time we were unable to care for her fully. And unlike many people, we still pay her lots of attention, though we cannot be her primary caretakers. She has helped us, so we are repaying her. I grew up with lots of caring attention from my parents. They were able to encourage my personal growth and teach me many valuable lessons.

Unfortunately, many parents seem to see their children as inconveniences resulting from a fun night. While they take care of them by providing food, shelter, and other necessary things, they don't seem to care about the children's development, and thus the state of the country when the parents are no longer in control. From an early age, children find the television a significant baby sitter. They are able to act freely without their parents caring very much, and often see their parents, in the moments of parental guidance, as obstacles to a good time.

It is difficult to say what the cause of this disregard of other generations is, but egocentrism seems a likely candidate. People in our society are largely concerned with personal gain rather than societal benefit. If someone can make more money at the expense of society, why shouldn't he if he won't be around to suffer as the society deteriorates? This attitude is also prevalent in the government where politicians try to gain personal enjoyment for themselves and their friends rather than make a better society for today and tomorrow. The concerns of children who can't vote yet and elders who may not be around for the next election are ignored by the politicians concerned only with personal gain from a position designed for the benefit of the masses. Not only do the members of our society have disregard for members of other generations that are related, the society as a whole has a disregard for the old and the young.

The egocentrism of not caring about other generations is very difficult to battle. Most of the defenses against it involve trying to convince the person that she SHOULD care about other people, but if someone doesn't feel that way it's almost impossible to convince that person to do so. The capitalist ideal has won out over the socialist, profitable for current players, but detrimental to those of future generations. If reincarnation is a reality a lot of people have screwed themselves over. They'll be restarting their Mac into Windows 95.

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