[VIEWPOINT]Elderly deserve love, respect

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[VIEWPOINT]Elderly deserve love, respect

One day when we are still in our mid-20s, we unexpectedly find that we are old enough to be called an uncle or an aunt. It is a shock to our system when it dawns on us how fast time passes.
In the beginning, we may resist being called an uncle or an aunt, but we get used to the title gradually when we get married and pass the age of 30.
What are we to be called in middle age? I am in my late 40s and I have been thinking that I belong to the generation of an uncle, while I am middle-aged at the same time. But that is not correct. When I look into the Korean dictionary edited by Lee Hi-seung and published by the Minjung Book Publishing Co., it says that people around the age of 40 are in the prime time of their working life, and they are middle age.
Other Korean dictionaries, such as the Grand Korean Dictionary published by the Hangul Society, and another one published by Geumseong Publishing Co., define middle age the same way. If we define those between 35 and 45 as being middle age, I suddenly am defined as old, because I am on the threshold of turning 50. The Standard Korean Dictionary published by the National Institute of the Korean Language is the only dictionary that defines people who are around 40 as being middle aged. How many people in their 50s will accept the idea that they belong to the aged? I think that dictionary editors have failed to take people’s extended age into consideration.
Japan has entered the aging society ahead of South Korea and some Japanese dictionaries also define middle age as being around 40. But a new Japanese dictionary defines it in a broader sense by including “people from their mid-50s to their early 60s.” American dictionaries interpret middle age to be from about 40 or 45 to 60.
Occasionally, I imagine a situation where I am called a “grandpa” instead of an uncle. Old age. It is a reality that will happen to everyone.
If someone is 65 years old, they must be born in 1941.
What about the generation born before 1941; who are they? They belong to the generation that was born during the Japanese occupation of the Korean Peninsula. They experienced the ideological confrontation between the right and the left after national liberation and the catastrophic Korean War. They were the chief contributors who made it possible for the whole nation to live well as well as we do now. They are the people who learned that sacrificing themselves for family, company and the nation is a virtue, instead of egoism. They belong to the generation that was devoted to their filial duty to their parents, but find it difficult to expect the same from their children. Those born around 1940 have entered the threshold of old age. They belong to the generation that was laid off without having the chance to complain during the foreign exchange crisis in 1997.
Books that recommend young women or salaried people to be armed with egoism are popular in the publishing world nowadays. I think the “silver generation” of Koreans who are over 65 years of age should exercise egoism for themselves from now on. Our younger generation is already smart and shrewd enough not to need our advice to be egoistic.
First of all, they need egoism that will defend their interests.
Mikio Kawamura is a former businessman who worked for a Japanese trading company. He transformed himself into a university professor at the age of 57. He recommends that people seek three kinds of skills in his book, “Preparing for Retirement at age 57.”
They are the skills that protect body, brain and money. Body protection means learning the techniques of preventing or escaping from danger, even though our body gets old and frail. Brain protection means preventing or delaying the onset of senile dementia. Money protection concerns keeping safe financially and spending money in an efficient way.
The aged also need to take organized action for their own interests. Even if it is collective egotism, it is acceptable.
Because the aged were not organized, they were belittled by one politician who said that “the aged would do better to rest at home, instead of coming to the polling stations on the ballot day.”
The population of the aged is increasing faster. By 2026, one out of five Koreans will be elderly. It is possible to organize the aged into a political force. In the general elections held in the Netherlands in 1994, there emerged two political parties that enabled the aged to gain seven seats, or 4.7 percent, of the total seats in the parliament.
The active lobbying activities of U.S. organizations for the aged are famous. They are called “the grey lobby.”
In Korea, the present silver generation has made great sacrifices throughout its life time.
Therefore, their “silver egoism” can be justified. They deserve rights and good treatment as a sign of love, respect and gratitude.

*The writer is the head of the culture and sports desk of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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