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When there is snow on the mountain, wisdom should be the natural ingredient to foster respect

When there is snow on the mountain, wisdom should be the natural ingredient to foster respect

I have never been a great one for blind respect. Show me a sacred cow and I’ll probably start talking about steak tartare or how well a dusting of ground cloves compliments a steak. It’s a guaranteed conversation stopper, whether you are talking to a chef or someone who really, truly, intensely believes that a sacred cow is, well, sacred.

However, there is no point in having guns, or even a butcher’s knife, if you are unwilling to stick, or cleave, to them.

It’s not as if sacred cows should instantly be put on the menu. But I believe that there are exceptions to every generalization, and that a questioning attitude is particularly important when faced with evidence that the belief flies in the face of all logical and emotional reason.

All that being said, the origin of my ire is the ill-conceived idea that age automatically brings with it wisdom and respect. If ever there was a sacred cow that was a candidate for a hearty beef stew with a dollop of cooking wine and a side order of crisp garden salad, this is it.

Apparently, getting older makes you smarter. As a result of your accumulated life experience, the older you get, the more respect you deserve. In order to be fair, I am going to use myself to destroy this fallacy in the first instance.

I come from a family in which I learned that people are generally good, deep down, somewhere, and that you should be able to trust them. I did not grow up with a strong sense of cynicism or the knowledge that actually, most people are looking to score as much as they can off you.

In spite of the experience of being misused more often than I care to count, I still take people at face value. I believe that if you play to a person’s good side, that person’s good side will emerge. The problem is that people around me often don’t change and I end up with the short end of the stick. I am not stupid. I have, in a sense, chosen not to learn, for the simple reason that I believe that mistrust and cynicism are stains on the soul.

Now consider the person who became manipulative, cynical, deceptive and / or acquisitive as a child. That sort of behaviour will almost certainly manifest itself in later life. No doubt after a lifetime of this behaviour, the patterns, reactions and reasoning will not mellow out but will instead become more habitual and pronounced.

History is littered with people who by no more virtue than advanced age, a streak of grey in their hair and a few well-placed wrinkles, were encouraged to be atrocious human beings, and looked at as role models.

In more enlightened parts of the world, geriatric crime is becoming a hot topic. How do you manage to deal with an eighty year old inmate for whom a ten year sentence for armed robbery is actually a life sentence? What sort of respect and dignity does this person deserve? A gun is the epitome of evil intent, regardless of the age of who wields it.

For that matter, how do you deal with a silvery haired, genocidal maniac with a Machiavellian disposition, armies at his disposal and too much time on his hands? Voting doesn’t seem to work.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that old age homes are hotbeds of devious iniquity with global territorial ambitions, or that old folks should be fenced in with barbed wire. It just means that as people age, they do not necessarily grow wiser: they gain life experience, good or bad.

The elder people who strike me as the most wise and respectable are those who are clear on the point that life is a learning curve, and there is no point at which you ‘know it all’, or even ‘know enough to sit back’. In spite of advanced age, these people become forces that can have a major impact on the futures of those around them.

Perhaps not knowing everything and learning are signs of humility and emotional intelligence, as long as they don’t involve trying to figure out how to release the safety catch on a ‘darn new-fangled gun’.

I believe old people have the right to respect but they must have earned it.


About The Author

Pierre Maré

Pierre Maré is a multi-awarded Namibian advertising strategist and copy writer. From 2004 to 2016 he wrote a weekly tongue-in-cheek column for the paper Economist, eventually amassing an impressive 590 articles over the almost 12-year period. This series of Offbeat is a digital rerun of his pieces that received the highest reader acclaim. - Ed.