Young people should respect the elderly
Stabroek News
March 3, 2002

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Dear Editor,

A tendency among young people in Guyana disturbs me and I am looking for answers. Why is it that the young people of this country treat elderly folks with such rudeness, at times bordering on contempt? They behave as if to get old one has committed a crime worthy of total exclusion.

Within my intelligence and experience I have found that some of the greatest good that has accrued to the human race has come from men and women who were long past their prime.

To name a few: Victor Hugo, George Bernard Shaw, Count Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Graham Bell, Prince Otto von Bismarck, Ludwig van Beethoven, Paul Cezanne, Titian, Leonardo Da Vinci...

Undeniably, young men and women have made their contributions to the betterment of humanity, but such contributions were never exclusive to the young. They were always part of a process initiated by the elderly. And whether or not old folks have done anything noteworthy, I hold to the view that a long life is a glowing example to human society and those whose life span had been protracted to a great old age deserve to be revered and respected.

Admitted, Guyana is an intensely beautiful country but it is not a wealthy society, and welfare and other social benefits might not be paid out in substantial sums to the elderly as is being done in Britain and other rich societies. But whatever the circumstance or the amenities the elderly have an imprescriptible right to life and to dignity.

Some old folks in whatever society possers substantial assets, both in financial and educational terms.

Who on earth would dare to harass the Queen Mother of England who is 101 and mother to the reigning Queen of England?

And if in our personal lives we find our mothers or grandmothers an embarrassment or a burden because of ill health or a constant need for care we should realise two things. Time will eventually and certainly catch up with us, and if we express intolerance it will rebound on us. We are not in this life to determine who is entitled to life.

The young have got an immense lot to learn from the elderly and such knowledge can be imparted even from a sick bed. Our personalities are being moulded by our forebears. In speaking, in eating, in house keeping, in dressing we own something to our parents and grandparents.

I have been to Africa among the Yorubas of Nigeria and I was astonished to see the reverence and respect paid to the elderly. At first I thought that when the young people went down on their knees in speaking to older folks it was an act of pretence. But I gradually learnt that tradition had imposed such exalted principles on them and those who disobeyed were excluded from the family or tribe.

This is as it should be.

In Guyana I may infer that many descendants of Yorubas still exist, but they have long ago abandoned these noble customs.

In India, the land of Hinduism and Buddhism, who else have always held sway over the minds of the people but old men? And who can fault such exalted concepts?

Guyana has everything to lose and absolutely nothing to gain in young people showing disrespect to the elderly.

Yours faithfully,

Prince Michael