Just getting old doesn’t make you wise, so stay polite! – 22 Sep 14

Indian culture

I would like to start writing about a topic today which is important for each and every one of us, no matter of which age we are: the relation in between old and young, the generations before us, our generation and the ones after us. Today I will start by writing about a rather negative attitude that I see especially in elderly Indian men and women: they believe that being old made them not only the wisest person on earth but also gave them the right to declare all others as stupid.

In general, I have to say that life in India is usually quite good for old people. Joint families are still common and the younger generations see it as their duty to take care of their parents and grandparents. That’s how they – in the most normal cases – live together with their offspring and as far as they can support the rest of the family at home by cooking, taking care of children or with their knowledge.

Also, in India, respect for the elderly is a very important value and it is taught already to small children in a way that I have not experienced that strongly in the west. Now before I start pointing out the problems, I would like to say beforehand how much I really cherish this fact. I believe we should all be able to live together with respect for those who have lived more years than we have. However, they need to respect the younger generation as well!

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. In India, it is normal for a father to tell his son when he thinks he is going the wrong way. Ideally, the son will listen, accept his mistakes and change. The right to point out mistakes and scold another person is however not only reserved to relatives by blood! Practically any person elder than you is, by tradition and culture, entitled to ‘set you straight’ and give you a piece of his mind. Tradition and culture also wants you to accept this as it is said and not talk against it. That would be disrespectful towards a person elder than you!

The problem that I see here is that age does not necessarily make everyone wise. Or polite. I recently had a case in which I was told by an elderly family friend that I was not of the age yet to talk about politics. He mentioned that I should be ashamed of the political view that I had expressed. For me, this was insulting and he thought he had the right to do so only because he is older than I am. This in itself is ridiculous, regardless the fact that in India you are old enough to vote with 18 and that I, with my nearly 43 years, have passed that age a few years ago.

I want to appeal to everyone who reads these lines: don’t think that only your age makes you better, more intelligent or in any way entitled to insult another person. If you are the older one, you may share your wisdom, knowledge or experience in a polite way with those younger than you. But never, ever believe that the other one is stupid just because he or she was born some or even many years after you!

If you are the younger one and the advice is given in a nice way, listen with respect, find out if it applies in modern times as well and be thankful for the help. If you didn’t ask for it, if it is insulting and you feel suppressed instead of supported, say it. Don’t be afraid to be outspoken about this!

Respect goes two ways and age gives nobody the right to insult others!

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