why should we respect our elders

Our elders already deserve our respect because they once took care of us.

When I was a child, I was regularly admonished to “respect your elders.” During those early years I knew that I had to respect them because they took care of me, gave me guidance when I had no direction of my own, and, I feared, could discipline me for refusing to bend to their will. Still, whether due to my own impatience or my incomplete grasp of the rules, I sometimes questioned my parents’ authority and often tested the limits they set for me. It was only years later that I began to see the wisdom in their ways and sought, rather than avoided, their counsel. I used to think it amazing that my dad seemed to know so much about practical psychology and that the people he worked with valued him and often sought his assistance. I now realize that so much of what I have come to value in myself I became because of my father and my mother.

Sometimes (often) our elders can work as hard and perform as well as we can. Let’s respect them for that.

When I was in college I worked at an orchard, pressing apple cider. I was the youngest member of the crew. The man I worked next to from six in the morning until long after noon was named Vern, and he was seventy-two. He had been a farmer and was working through his retirement. Besides manning the hose, pouring the pulp into formed canvas sheets and then guiding the fifty-plus-gallon press run (one slip and it’s pulp everywhere!), we both had to “throw” the almost dried remains into a large bin using a vigorous and sometimes repetitive flicking movement. This was nearly constant physical labor, and Vern never flinched or missed a beat. He and many of my elders taught me lessons of hard work and perseverance. Working alongside my elders also gave me a deep appreciation for the continuing contributions that older adults can provide for our society.

Our elders have accumulated a lifetime of experience. Let’s respect and listen to them when they have something to say about the most important things.

Nearly twenty years ago to this day, my grandmother was lying in her hospital bed during her final hours. In a quiet moment in the middle of the night, she whispered to me, “When you were in the hospital, were you afraid?” She was talking about my childhood experience with polio, when I was taken miles from my home and my parents. I was, of course, terrified nearly the whole time. Listening to the deeper meaning of her question, I nodded and then asked, “Are you afraid?” “No,” she said—and she was fully aware of her fate. She then took a small ring from her pinky and asked me to give it to my daughter. These moments and others shared that evening showed that she had come to a point in her life when the most important thing for her to do was no longer about herself and her own projects, but about us, her loved ones, and the lives that we had still to live. She stayed with us through the next morning before she passed on, but I will never forget the lesson she shared with me about moving without fear from this life to the next.

It is in our own interest that we give our elders their due respect. Even more than respect, we need to give them our time and our listening, our interaction and our gratitude. This is true no matter our present age, nor theirs. It’s a win-win situation.

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