A photo showing an elderly woman standing hunched over on a Sydney train while three young commuters sit down in front of her has been causing quite a stir on the internet lately.
The picture, shows an obviously frail and physically limited older woman standing and clutching on to a pole to maintain her balance on a crowded Sydney train, while four young individuals sit comfortably, either ignoring her or too engrossed with their mobile phones to care.
The photo itself has been a source of much conjecture, with many people labeling the train sitters as ‘heartless,’ sparking the debate about respecting the elderly and the overall lack of empathy in today’s society.
But since the photo has surfeced online, stories are beginning to reveal that the woman in the photo had just gotten up from her seat and was preparing to disembark from the train.
And even though this may have been a ‘false alarm’ in terms of something to be outraged about, scenes like this actually do play out on a daily basis all around the country.
The Entertainment Generation
The invention of the internet has had an unparalleled effect on society over the last 20 years. Slowly but surely, we went from people who tuned into radio and television hoping to find something that we were interested in, to having unlimited access to any form of entertainment and information possible.
And evidently, being constantly entertained is not really a good thing.
Even in its infancy, the early years of the internet saw many of my generations most social teenagers become isolated by the prospect of not needing to venture outside of their home in order to find stimulation.
Music, videos, articles, discussions, games and unlimited information were suddenly available to anyone at any time, and catching up with friends was now as simple as sending an instant message.
And as time passed and technology continued to progress, the advent of smartphones and other portable devices has now resulted in people being able to isolate themselves in public.
In the years prior to the internet, public transport and public areas, in general, had a lot more social interaction between people, and even though not everyone was talking to each other, people actually had a chance to stop and think for themselves.
Having the time to assess your surroundings and drift away in thought has a calming effect on the brain, making you more mindful of your situation and others around you.
But in 2019 things are quite the opposite.
Headphones and mobile devices have people completely immersed in audio and visual stimulation, switched off from the realities of the outside world, and completely invested in themselves and their own interests
This type of lifestyle over a long period of time has spawned inflated feelings of self-importance and a festering culture of selfishness within our society.
And that is an unfortunate shift when you consider just how many elderly and vulnerable Australians count on the rest of society to ensure their wellbeing.
In Need Of Assistance
Many of the elderly Australians that walk among us have lived through incredible hardship.
War, famine, disease, and extreme poverty are just portion of some of the experiences that older generations have faced, and in some cases, actually living long enough to become elderly has been a minor miracle.
When a person reaches the latter stages of their life, the toll of a lifetime of choices and experiences begins to shape both their physical and mental ability.
And the issues involved with growing old make them vulnerable.
And it is at this point, when the generation who are responsible for the comforts and freedoms that we enjoy in today’s society, turn to the rest of us for empathy, humility, and help.
There are a number of different things that we can, and should be doing, to show our respect and appreciation to those in the highest age bracket.
Many of which take no more effort than being alert and attentive when an older person is in your vicinity.
Firstly, offer up your seat.
The elderly are susceptible to many physical and cognitive issues, and having the ability to move independently can sometimes be difficult.
The task of walking and standing for sustained periods of time may seem simple at first thought, but for some elderly people, this can require immense effort and also be extremely taxing physically.
Having to stand for 20 minutes may be a slight inconvenience for you, but having the ability to rest can make all the difference in the world for an elderly person trying to maintain independence and stay mobile.
Engage and Talk
Being physically active can be extremely challenging for an elderly person, and in some cases, they may be moving independently out of necessity rather than by choice.
Public spaces are a hotbed of visual and auditory stimulation and this can actually become overwhelming. So a friendly smile and the simple question- ’are you O.K?’ Can open up an opportunity for you to let this person know that you value them.
A simple conversation about the weather, or what they are have been doing for the day, may seem unnecessary at first, but unfortunately, many older Australians suffer from social isolation, and you just might be the first person they have talked to in a long time.
How you are treated by others, ultimately shapes your opinion of your own self-worth, so those of us with little to no meaningful social interaction often have low self-esteem and a high rate of depression.
Sadly, men over the age of 85 have the highest rate of suicide in Australia, but unfortunately, just like many of the issues that face the elderly, no one knows or cares about it.
So whether its an elderly face out in public, or an elderly friend or relative; take the time to reach out and let these people know that you care as often as possible.
Out of Sight Into Mind
The image of a young person helping an elderly stranger cross the road has long been a universal symbol of good nature, but in order for this to become a standard people need to be aware of what’s going on around them.
Helping an elderly person who is physically struggling to cross the road or climb onto a bus is easy because you can physically see them.
But often, it’s those that suffer in silence that require the most attention.
Elderly neighbors and friends are the cornerstones of any great suburban area, but communities need to rally to ensure that these people are well looked after.
Fatigue and dehydration can be a major risk for elderly people in the hotter months of the year, and elderly people are also prone to falls, which become even more dangerous if they are unable to signal for assistance.
So the simple gesture of knocking on the door to say hello is a great way to check in on them physically or remind them to stay cool and drink plenty of water.
The World Is Yours
Young Australians are the biggest weapon that this country has in pushing for new trends and behavioral change in this country.
They are better informed, more tech-savvy, and have a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips.
It is up to them to lead the way in shaping the way that society cares and values it’s older generation.
The extreme connectivity of modern technology has given you access to everything that you could imagine, and the demands and pace of modern society have taught you how to juggle everything in your life at once.
Your priorities, thoughts, and ideas are no less valuable than anyone because of your age, in fact, they are probably the most important, because they will shape the future.
All that we ask is that in between the demands of your fast-paced modern life, you take a quick glance around to notice if anyone is moving slowly, and if so, please keep an eye on them.
They need you, we will need you, and eventually, you will need people who are just like you.