Several years ago, I decided that I will ride in a subway or trolleybus only standing up. Even if I have been wearing heels for half a day, even if there are a lot of free seats in the compartment or some compassionate man persistently yields his seat … The fact is that many times, when taking a seat in the transport, I got in awkward situations. For example, staring in the window or checking the phone, I looked up and found a hanging-over-me grey-haired old woman or man with a cane. Or seeing an elderly person at the handrail, I started having the whole brainstorming session, trying to assess whether he is old or physically frail enough, in order the offer to sit down would not be offensive for him…
So I started thinking about it: how often we, without noticing it, cross the line between politeness, care, custody, humor, practicality and the so-called “ageism”? Because, in everyday life, the age (gender, race etc.) discrimination is often manifested not in the direct insults, but in “micro-affronts”. Many of us happily smile or turn their head when they see “lovely” old ladies in bright dresses, melt when they see how “charming” pensioners dance in parks, press likes in social media below the photos and videos with “cute elderly women and men”… And now imagine that everyone starts treating you like a kitten in a box. For the elderly person, it is humiliating to hear compliments, like “touching” and “sweet”. Well, who would want to feel infantile and helpless?
Other example – when a man of advanced years asks you something, most likely you will express the highest degree of interest and reply to him louder or slower than to a younger man (detailing, belaboring the point, like you are speaking to a child or mentally challenged). Well, not all people lose hearing or ability to comprehend information with age. However, the ability to capture the shades of speech and clearly understand what happens sharpens. That, you know, will wound anybody’s self-esteem.
One more way to make a man feel helpless is to decide everything for him. Young people usually get annoyed with the incompetence of the aged in regard to everything, associated with computers, smartphones, self-service terminals; that is why, instead of explaining once and with a smile, they will find by themselves the bus schedule in the Internet, pay utility bills via terminal, put tape on “extra” buttons on TV remote control or old mobile phone for a “granny”. And then, again out of love, they will laugh at their granny’s awkwardness with their peers. And vice versa: what a mischievous delight and “respect” is caused by the elderly people, who are good at using gadgets. Except that to show up the senior generation as technologically illiterate is at least unfair. A good half of them laid the foundation for modern developers of Facebook, IPhone and Google. It is another matter that in the country with minimum pension of 1,373 UAH, the threshold for entering “digital world” is too high (the most unpretentious tablet now costs 2-3 ths UAH plus Internet – 100 UAH per month). And if we take into account the speed of technological development, then even a young man with the salary, lower than average, in our country cannot afford to be in the mainstream.
And the last thing: I remember how 15 years ago, my aunt received the pension certificate and hid it away in the box. To this very day, she is busy and active, has two jobs, pays fare in the trolleybus (in order not to show her status) and even inured her grandchildren to call her by name. And now imagine that someone else’s “grandson”, aged 35-40, from the best of motives, will call her in the trolleybus: “Old lady, take a seat!” Of course, she will be offended. And she will do a right thing. Because the woman over 65, well-dressed and in a rush for work, cannot be called “granny” or, all the more, “old lady” in our time. As it is not her guilt that there are no correct words for defining the people of senior generation either in Russian, or in Ukrainian modern languages. Thus, the language just clearly reflects the state and cultural landmarks of the society. The absence of language norms for polite address to the people of advanced years shows that there is no room for them in our society. In our state, if the pensioner loses his social activeness after retirement (does not continue to work), he feels “written-off”, as he is instantly thrown under the poverty line, and nobody, except for his family, needs him any longer. In many Asian countries, where the traditional patriarchal society preserved (for example, in Japan), the cult of senior generation is well developed. There, the aged people fulfil the liaison function between generations and are given special respect: they become the source of life experience for youth and the guardians of traditions. In the postindustrial society, the cult of family is not so strong, but the people of senior generation do not fall out of the social ladder, as they obtain high income and spend free time for hobbies and traveling. However, we got stuck somewhere in the middle of development. Our grannies more often think over whether they want to devote their life to the care about grandchildren? It is another matter what will be with Ukrainian families, if the retired women follow the current trend for “third”, “fourth” youth and prefer other activities rather than to support their children? Will the state be ready to take the left by grannies role of “always ready” helper?