[Viewpoint] Don’t ignore senior citizens

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[Viewpoint] Don’t ignore senior citizens

What is old age? Is it like a dimming light or the poignant movement toward the last breath? How do young people view the elderly? Are they regarded as the intransigent group from the old school?

Seniors in our society these days are often ridiculed and discounted. They are shoved around, especially during election season. Before the Seoul mayoral by-election, in which a civilian activist candidate had immense support from young voters, a seemingly young voter tweeted that he or she booked a spa vacation for his or her parents to buy their votes.

A well-known liberal professor jubilantly tweeted back, “Way to go!” A candidate during the last presidential election publicly said voters aged 60 or older should stay at home rather than come to the voting booth.

Have senior citizens become such a nuisance to our society that their votes no longer count? No, we should not discount the aged. We lose a little and, at the same time, gain a little as we get older. Why can’t we celebrate that?

Roman philosopher Cicero advocated about 2,000 years ago that the wisdom in old age transcends time and culture: “Old age withdraws us from active employment. But from which jobs? Do you mean from those carried out only by youth and bodily strength? Are there then no jobs to be had for older people that can be performed using intellect even when bodies are weak? If so, then wise old men who were supporting the state with their advice and influence were doing nothing!

“Those criticizing the old are like men who would say that a steersman does nothing in sailing a ship because he sits quietly in the stern holding the tiller while some of the crew are climbing the masts, others hurrying up and down the gangways, and others pumping out the bilge water,” he said before discussing the aged a bit more.

“He does not do what young men do. Nevertheless, what he does is much more important. The great affairs of life are not performed by physical strength or nimbleness of body but by deliberation, character and expression of opinion. Old age does not deprive people of these qualities. As a rule, older people have them in a greater degree.

“If you will take the trouble to read or listen to foreign history, you will find that the mightiest states have been brought into peril by young men and have been supported and restored by the old .?.?. for of course rashness is the note of youth, prudence of old age,” he said.

Today’s young people should pay heed to the wise words of the ancient sage. But would his words draw yawns from them?

Cicero was 62 when he wrote the essay. If old age is accompanied by wisdom, the young may argue their youth gives them prerogative to rage.

But they must not forget that the elderly resurrected this country from war rubble and built it to today’s riches. They have toiled to raise today’s younger generation. Their blood and sweat have helped make the young, and they are too valuable to be disregarded.

Dear young people, what makes you so angry? Is it because you cannot find jobs? Is it because you cannot afford college tuition? Has youth become a synonym for anxiety and disappointment instead of enthusiasm? We empathize with your pain, but aging is no less comforting. Do our wrinkles say anything else? We fight with illness and shadows of death, yet live each day with persistence and determination.

Instead of citing the generation gap, why not try paying a little attention to the wisdom of the aged? They are like a ship returning home after a long journey in a vast sea. They have seen the world. And whether you realize it or not, you will soon arrive at old age too.

*The writer is a professor of civil ethics education at Seoul National University.

by Park Hyo-jong

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