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(Dis)Respecting Our Elders

To my fellow Millenials.

A couple weeks back, I was at my university’s campus and a few yards away from me (to my left) was a little girl descending the staircase. She grabbed my attention cause I just heard a tiny voice say, “wait for me!” She must have been about 5 years old but had a number of items in her hand. As a result of her extremely small stature, everything in her possession looked much bigger than her. This explained her delay to catch up to the person she was following.

At first, I couldn’t see who she was following because they seemed to be moving fairly quickly. I continued walking in the opposite direction but noticed when the little girl got to the bottom of the staircase, the person she was following finally turned around. It was an elderly woman, presumably her grandmother. She was a good car length ahead of her, perhaps even further and was wearing a large purse on her shoulder. In other words, she was not carrying as many things as the little girl and as a result, was able to move much faster.  The elder woman said something to the little girl I couldn’t quite make out, given my distance. However her stance indicated impatience and the little girl’s response, which I was able to hear, confirmed my inference.

The child replied matter-of-factly, “I’m small and you’re much taller than me with longer legs. That’s the best explanation.” As I ascended the staircase, I smiled to myself cause I thought the little girl’s response was adorable but most importantly, fair considering all the factors in play.

When I got to the top of the stairs, I continued my way towards my destination’s building. I couldn’t help but still wonder why what I just witnessed fascinated me. On the one hand, I thought it was funny that the little girl responded so bluntly to her elder counterpart who probably asked, “what’s taking you so long?” “can’t you move any faster?” or something in between. Simultaneously, I felt bad that the little girl was receiving no help and was in a sense, questioned for her inability to balance things bigger than her or make her tiny legs move faster.

I thought about my own experiences with elder folks whom,
would ask me questions that, looking back, I feel were inept. If I were to respond in the same manner, would be accused of “talking back.” Even though I was correct, or had a valid point, I was reminded that I was small and immature and had no reason to disrespect my elders.

On the other hand, elders would humiliate me for asking a question that I thought was simple. Questions like, “hey, where should I put this [heavy object or whatever]?” would result in a condensing response like, “on my head! Where do you think?” And in my mind, I’d feel humiliated cause I ended up thinking, I should have known the answer and hated myself for not knowing.

If something like this has happened to you, you can probably sympathize with how I’d allow people to continue being rude to me by not doing anything and simply waiting for direction. When I’d ask for help, I’d get a response like, “figure it out!” This would result in people getting frustrated with me for not “figuring it out for [my]self.” God forbid I messed something up during my trial and error process, cause then it would be someone on the other side going, “why didn’t you ask for help?!” I don’t understand how people can tell you to figure something out for yourself, and then get angry with you if you don’t ask questions.

Maybe it’s the significant age gap between elder generations and the younger ones, or maybe it has something to do with people failing to understand that people and their circumstances are not the same. It’s easy to forget what it was like to struggle for money after getting a high paying job. And when we get older we may forget what it was like to be ignored as a child.

There’s a thin line between giving advice and being entirely rude to someone. And as a young person, it’s hard to reconcile that with a proper response. Do we hang our heads low, silently acknowledging that someone is from a different time, who may not understand that my upbringing is much different from theirs? Or do we get frustrated with ourselves, since “[they] could do it, why can’t you?” Of course, we must respect everyone and their opinion, but at what point do you (like the little girl) and put people in their place?

Certainly, it’s a case-by-case basis and there is no universal way to respond to someone older than us, without the promise of it sounding like disrespect. Especially because not all elder folk are disrespectful to the younger generation. On the contrary, some of the older generations are sympathetic to the younger ones’ struggles and are fully aware that things have changed dramatically since then. Simultaneously, younger generations acknowledge that it is important to value the opinions of their elders and are even inspired by them.

At the end of the day though, when you’ve got someone that is unwilling to notice the baggage you’re carrying as you’re climbing up your own ladder of success – or rather, wonder what’s taking you so long to get up there – without offering any help, we can all agree that it’s disrespect. Some may hang their head in shame and try to push themselves harder up that ladder or even get off, thinking it’s pointless (the usual route some might take). Or they can respond with a certain finger as they continue making their way up that ladder. Sure, it may be fighting fire with fire, but does simply walking away from the fire make things any better? In other words, should we just sit there and allow someone (regardless of age) to insult or humiliate us if/when their opinions were unwarranted? Some might say, “yes because it’s the right thing to do. They’re our elders and we must listen to them. They are always right and we are wrong, even if we are right.”

Fuck all that…

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