April 26, 2012
Empathizing with the old
Young and old are not separate entities, but relative positions at two ends of a continuum we call life. There is no line demarcating young from the old, and at any given point on this continuum, there’s someone who is older or younger than you except at the point of birth where life begins and at the other extremity called death where life ends. While the physical image of young and old gives us the visual of the form, how we feel about our age is often a fabrication of our minds.
All of us are young to begin with, and the inevitable process of entropy continues to the time of old age and finally death -- that ultimate inevitability. You can be sure the 80 year-old man with the walking stick you saw yesterday on the street, or the one you observed sitting meekly leaning against the side wall of the mosque before prayers, was in the exuberance of youth just like you perhaps sixty or so years ago. When we are young, the resilience and the exuberance this period of our life brings often makes us forget that there will ever be another day. But inevitably, and inexorably that process of nature continues silently and unrelentingly. This change is seen as a loss because our physical appearance begins to give way, and the physical organs of our body begin to malfunction more frequently, etc. And true, however much we apply our creams and lotions, or prolong our time here by medicines and machines that cost fortunes, the effect of preservation or holding back nature can only be temporary – please believe me.
But getting older is not something to be afraid of. If we can prepare for this inevitability by facing this reality with confidence, the dividends will be very rewarding. The wisdom you gain from experience and the support structure you will have in a family well nurtured will give you unlimited joy. But to prepare for that day we first need to be aware of this impending natural inevitability, and accept that getting old will happen you too, just as it had happened to the man you saw laboring along the street or sitting meekly in the mosque. We can’t hold back the universe, but must accept its offerings and inevitabilities. And when we accept things as they are, a delightful sense of peace and confidence pervades our very being. With this confidence gained from acceptance, your next move will have to be the active preparation for your old age, so that your old age will be a continuation of this mental confidence and satisfaction. It may be sad, but true, that without preparation, you can never get the better of an outcome.
So it goes without saying, the youth of Maldives of today, as those everywhere else, must prepare for the dusk of their life. Now, here’s where the golden rule must impress great meaning. Would you not in your old age be happy when the youth of tomorrow gives you the respect that will make you glow with joy, and feel a sense of pride that your life’s purpose was fulfilled? Perhaps no one will disagree. So, we’ve got to start preparing by respecting the old of today! What you sow is what you reap, as they say. That respect the youth of today can muster for the old of today will give you the benefits of a joyous and cared-for old age for you tomorrow. It begins by practicing respect for others through the conscious process of showing love – through the act of giving and helping out. Respect is built through making conscious decisions in our minds - every one of us - to be nice to the old and aged, not speak harsh words to them, and not make them feel they are the alienated and the disdained. Neglect brings tears to their sad eyes even though you in your youth may not even notice it as you move in your hurry to amass all the glittering toys that you see in the market today - not being aware that you are here because of them.
Those among the youth, who for some reason or other, are frustrated and angry may blame your present predicament on your parents or others who looked after you, to insinuate that the reason for your misfortune of today is because your parents did not take care of you well enough or did not nurture the confidence in you that would have helped you to be more adjusted. Let me tell you, with hindsight, that firstly, the past is dead and however much we want to go back and rectify it we cannot do it. So let's not blame the past, but learn to forgive instead. It will only make you ever more miserable if you don’t and you will carry that pain in yourselves that will manifest as social mischief, angry society, drug abuse, crime and violence. So, let’s just begin from today to build good feelings and good examples for the future by being good role models -- because you, the youth of today, will be the parents of tomorrow that will have kids and nurture the leaders of yet another generation.
When we cannot instill this love and caring, the adults we get will be those with so many insecurities, and insecure individuals without self-confidence reflect their inadequacies through bullying and violence. We see this in schools where the bully is really a very insecure individual who is not sure of his capabilities and so he has to demonstrate in anti-social ways. We see this in our adult life too, where the insecure will hurt people and do even harsher things to those seemingly in weaker predicaments. Punishment may instill fear for compliance for the moment. But instigated fear will only be momentary and it is certainly not the solution for a sustainable society. The youth of today must listen to the wisdom of the past. Respect the old. What we get in school and university is only knowledge and information. But to transform this into intelligence requires a dose of experience and the opportunity to match knowledge with practice. This wisdom then accumulates into collective wisdom. And if we look for such collective wisdom of the past, it is there right beside you for your taking, if only you would ask – in the form of grandparents, wise men and women, and of course in our revered scriptures.
Believe it or not, I can say this from hindsight of six decades of life, such wisdom and the good morals it embodies is indeed the anchor of life; it is the hand-hold you have in the turbulent sea that we call our life. You must hold on to these, otherwise, sadly, the deep blue sea is there to consume you. You are the future of this nation. You must build your lives with this moral anchor so that you and your children will have a safe haven on this earth to live in to prepare for a safer heaven beyond. Let's not divide ourselves and yet hope to create harmony in this world. You may feel momentary pride in following bad examples just because your ego prods you to do so. Its selfish nudging will show you momentary pleasures like in a thrilling movie or in a pleasant dream, that will inevitably end, and ultimately reality will hit you as you never imagined – but alas, it maybe too late. You must learn to listen to your authentic self - that aspect of your being that is not competitive and not selfish for gain; that inner voice that only wants you to be a part of the oneness that we all are. Each one of us is but a wave in the sea, not separate from it.