On becoming an elder | Our Columnists | messagemedia.co – Aitkin Independent Age

Recently, I have connected with a cousin named Robert through Ancestry.com. My maternal grandfather and his paternal grandfather were brothers. What’s so amazing is he has traced that family tree back to 1485 – who knew one could be successful going back that far?

Ancestors on that branch go back to Germany, France and Switzerland, he said.

Makes me think about how related everyone is.

My only sibling, Jim, and I no longer have living grandparents or parents. Our last elder, an aunt, died this year. That means we are the elders now.

According to The Week, a new Elderly Rights Law passed in China wags a finger at adult children, warning them to “never neglect or snub elderly people” and mandating that they visit their elderly parents often, regardless of how far away they live. The law includes enforcement mechanisms, too: Offspring who fail to make such trips to mom and dad face potential punishment ranging from fines to jail time.

Western cultures tend to be youth-centric, emphasizing attributes like individualism and independence. This relates back to the Protestant work ethic, which ties an individual’s value to his or her ability to work — something that diminishes in old age. Anthropologist Jared Diamond, who has studied the treatment of the elderly across cultures, has said the geriatric in countries like the U.K. and U.S. live “lonely lives separated from their children and lifelong friends.” As their health deteriorates, the elderly in these cultures often move to retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.

In many traditional Indian societies, old age brought respect and leadership. It was understood that the experience and knowledge of elders was a resource that could be drawn upon as a tribe made decisions for the future.

In American Indian cultures, elders are valued as protectors, mentors, teachers, keepers of wisdom, and intergenerational transmitters of cultural knowledge. American Indian elders are often leaders in their communities and are expected to be involved in decision-making

According to Wikipedia, the veneration of the dead, including one’s ancestors, is based on love and respect for the deceased. In some cultures, it is related to beliefs  that the dead have a continued existence and may possess the ability to influence the fortune of the living. Some groups venerate their direct, familial ancestors.

 While I am not in the camp of ancestor veneration, I believe there is a lot to learn about ourselves when examining the lives of those family members who preceeded us. I really like the Native American attitude toward elders. It makes me think that maybe businesses and industries today are missing the mark a bit in valuing youth over old age and experience.

 It may be time for me to explore another branch of the family tree to see what there is to discover.