Learning to age gracefully

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Learning to age gracefully

I had been waiting for the elevator to arrive at a subway station. I was at the front, and there was a disabled person in a wheelchair waiting behind a couple of others. When the elevator arrived, I stepped aside to let the person in the wheelchair into the elevator first. But an elderly man pushed me aside to get into the elevator first. Since there was plenty of room in the elevator, he could have gotten in with no trouble if he had waited a little longer.

An acquaintance of mine said she sat in the seat in the subway reserved for the elderly for the first time after she turned 65. But she was soon scolded publicly by an elderly man who told her to move away.

The insolent ways of elderly people are familiar. It is not only the younger people who lack decorum and manners these days. The people swinging iron pipes and gas cartridges at protest rallies are mostly older people. Crimes by elderly citizens are on the rise by double digits. Their criminal acts are turning more violent and even deadly. Elderly people have become the source of social rage.

The young have good reason to abhor the ways of the elderly. It was not always that way. Korea, with its Confucian legacy, traditionally respects the elderly. We live in different times in a world where the elderly refuse to comply and adapt. In the old days, people did not live that long, and the elderly people were not many. But today, one out of seven or eight Koreans are beyond 65. In 10 years, half of the population will be elderly. In no other civilizations have so many people lived such long lives. We are heading towards an ultra-aged society without any manual and experience in living among a majority of elderly people. We are as ignorant as the aged people on the ways of living in such times.

I re-studied the long-term government outline to address the low birth rate and aging society. The measures were composed of policies to boost employment, offer financial aid and protection. They also included actions to encourage birth and immigration. In short, Korea will subsidize and protect the elderly and try to make up for the thinning working population by attracting foreign citizens.

In a decade or so, robotic and automated systems will replace human labor, and technology will have advanced to extend life further. Artificial intelligence could be commonplace, and various machines such as robots, automated vehicles and Internet of Things will lessen the need for human resources. Bio-medical technology will cure diseases and extend life. Future technology will compensate for declining human productivity and physical weaknesses to allow people to live longer with less discomfort. Society could be entirely different, and yet policies on dealing with a majority of elderly people remain outdated. The policies are entirely focused on sustaining demographic numbers. No society is rich enough to support and sustain an age group that takes up 20 percent of the population. That many people should not act as if they require all the respect, care and protection. Their number requires them to go on contributing to society in a productive way. The mainstream population must blend with society instead of trying to domineer it.

People innately have a mean nature, but they can tame themselves and become good through the practice of courtesy and order. Manners must be taught and practiced for life. We all have to learn to age gracefully. Social roles change according to age. Since elderly people will become the mainstream population, their role in society should be redefined. I would suggest that re-education be included in the policy for the elderly. How to live well at a ripe age should be the common agenda for our generation, as we will all end up there.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 2, Page 34

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yang Sunny

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