Whether you’re strolling through one of our country’s major cities or rubbing your eyes in disbelief as your stare at some of the most stunning natural landscape on earth, it’s not hard to understand why people from around the globe refer to Australia as ‘The Lucky Country.’
Fantastic healthcare, infrastructure, and a calm political environment are an example of what a large number of countries aspire to have, and from the the outside looking in, it’s not hard to imagine that those living in different environments would think that Australia would be the perfect place to live for everyone.
And while we do the vast majority of things extremely well in Australia, it appears that one of the most basic yet important fundamentals of our society leaves a lot to be desired.
And that is the current lack of respect that our elderly people experience from society as a whole.
Having, and showing respect to the elderly, is a hallmark of a society that is well grounded. It is also a clear indicator of the weight of value that society places on both knowledge and the plight of the vulnerable.
And it doesn’t take much investigation to get a real idea of which way Australia’s moral compass is currently pointing.
Despite being part of the most rapidly growing age bracket in the country, elderly Australians have very little representation within mainstream media.
Being out-of-sight to this level over a sustained period of time perpetuates the notion that the elderly have a lesser value than everyone else.
This lack of value being placed on the elderly is being witnessed by the youngest and most impressionable members of our society, and this is where negative attitudes and a lack of respect begins.
Children within Australian households also have less access to the elderly family members than they did in years gone by, with the rigours of the working world forcing many families to require both parents to work.
In some instances this has meant elderly people have found themselves in an aged care facility or alternative living arrangements, and away from their immediate families.
Issues that directly affect the elderly can often be complex due to the deterioration that comes with ageing, and a number of these problems are specific to the elderly.
The fact that these issues often don’t affect the other age groups within society causes a large proportion of the public to disregard these issues completely or place very little value on them.
Whether it’s the media, working pressures on family life, or an overall lack of empathy, it is abundantly clear that Australia is lacking some of the most basic elements when it comes to respecting the elderly.
And maybe it’s time that Australians start looking abroad for ideas on how to get back basics when it comes to caring for and respecting their elderly loved ones.
How Do Other Cultures Care?
Asian countries have long be known for households that include extended families. And even those living in some of the more affluent neighborhoods place a lot of importance on maintaining their connection with other family members.
In these countries, family comes first.
In India, traditionally, a son will bring his new bride home to live with his parents, and their children will then grow up alongside their grandparents.
Not only does this solve any childcare issues for families where both parents work, it also creates amazing bonds between the children and their grandparents.
Caring for elderly family members is seen as a duty in traditional Indian households, and this weight of responsibility is looked at as an honour rather than an inconvenience.
Children in Indian households witness firsthand the importance being placed on their elderly loved ones by their own parents, and this value and respect filters its way down into the minds of the children, carrying on this culture of love and respect towards the elderly and instilling their ‘duty’ to their own parents.
In China, the importance being placed on the welfare of the elderly is also at a premium. And the notion of even placing a loved one in a nursing home will see the persons children labeled as uncaring and bad.
Family is the main priority in traditional Chinese homes, and abandoning one’s family by placing an elderly family member into another persons care is considered deeply dishonourable.
Children in China receive reminders from a very young age that they owe everything to their parents and that they have a duty to repay this debt to them in full by caring for them.
What Is Australia’s Problem?
While it’s understandable that different countries have different working environments and financial requirements, it’s hard to deny the fact that the attitude towards the elderly in Australia is not where it should be when compared to other places around the globe.
Here, it is almost as if society has spent so long dismissing the capabilities and worth of the elderly, that they have reverted to mocking them or just omitting them completely from conversation.
Many people in Australia treat the elderly like a burden.
In many cases it may be impossible for a family to be able to look after a loved one, but that should not be seen as an opportunity to hand the responsibility to someone else completely.
Aged care services need to be viewed as tool to help families care for their loved ones as opposed to a service that cares for an elderly person in order to relieve a family of the duty.
And positive change in attitude regarding the elderly will only have real benefits if it is something that is seen rather than heard.
Respect is something that is instilled at an early age and it is instilled through actions rather than words.
A child’s attitude is shaped by its surroundings, and these days children are having less contact with the elderly than ever before, in person, and through the media.
We need to provide Australian children with real life examples of how we would like to be treated in our twilight years, in order to swing attitudes back to where they should be.
Because you can tell someone to respect their elders, but it doesn’t mean anything if they don’t see it.