When you meet an elderly citizen who is quite known to you, what sort of feeling do you develop at the back of your mind? Is it a sense of respect or one of disgust? Do you feel humble while talking to him not because “he /she is aged and hence needs to be shown respect” but because you really feel that way in front of him/her?
Our reaction ultimately boils down to one simple fact – how dignified the old person is in his/her demeanor.
Dignified or a laughing stock?
In Indian traditional wisdom, it is said that as a person becomes older and older, the one characteristic he/she should develop more and more is detachment. This detachment covers physical, emotional, intellectual and social bondages. Further, attachment to the world should get converted to attachment towards God. The more one ages developing these qualities, the more dignified he/she becomes.
In the above light, we shall now see how to develop the qualities for aging with dignity:
Do not attempt to look younger than your age
Such advice may shock many women in the west, because the desire to look young and sexy far beyond youth seems to preoccupy the minds of many women (and some men, too). Remaining healthy, physically fit and fighting against obesity are fine and necessary, but fighting against normal graying of hair, wrinkles on the face, propping up the breasts by women through plastic surgery, etc. are quite unnecessary.
Behave decently with the opposite sex
Whatever a woman does to look far younger than her true age mostly never cuts ice in the eyes of men. When such woman tries to look sexier too, they totally lose their dignity and even become laughing stocks.
The same applies to some older men who shamelessly ogle young girls and try valiantly to come down to their levels and behave like a dog-in-heat to impress them!
A father of a girl of twenty should a display fatherly demeanor with his daughter’s friends, even though his innate and not-yet-subdued sexual urges may tempt him to behave more like a man getting attracted towards the opposite sex.
Get rid of possessiveness over children
Western society seems to be better developed with this quality than eastern society as seen in India. While parents should watch their children till they are in their teen age and be highly responsible for their conduct and character, parents should gracefully loosen their grip on their children once they become adults. Beyond that stage, their relationship with the children should become more like a trustworthy friend.
A mother’s attachment towards her children generally continues to remain strong in the emotional plane even far beyond the children’s teen age. Possessiveness is a negative force that stealthily remains attached behind a mother’s love and many times this possessiveness has a tendency to affect good conjugal relationship of her children with their spouses.
To age with dignity, parents should carefully watch their possessive mindset and allow their children to chart their course in life fairly independently once they start earning. At the same time, they need not resign from acting as a confidant and guide when the offspring seek help and support.
Parents who rejoice seeing their sons and daughters leading happy married lives and ensure excellent relationship with their son-in-laws, daughter-in-laws and their parents, too, look highly dignified in the eyes of society.
A person normally achieves most of things in life – good status in society, power and position in his/her profession, enjoying goodies, comforts and authority by the time he/she reaches the age of retirement. But, many people dread retirement because they are too attached to all these and afraid of losing their self-importance after retirement.
But the very concept of retirement has been necessary in society because the younger generation should have the opportunity to achieve higher positions and the aged ones do tend to get slack, inefficient and out of synch with modern trends in technology and lifestyle. Those who refuse to retire gracefully lose respect from the younger generation.
Retiring gracefully and charting a new, purposeful and satisfying lifestyle after retirement goes a long way in aging with dignity.
Be financially self-supporting and independent
By the time one retires, a person should be totally free from debt, should have built up enough savings and resources for supporting oneself and spouse for the rest of old age. Simplifying lifestyle, changing and economizing spending habits, etc. are to be cultivated consciously. Elders who leave debts to their children and who have to totally depend on their children’s money for their sustenance will not be able to lead a dignified life at old age.
Be health conscious but do not make a fetish about health
By proper food control, exercise and self discipline, elders should take care of their health very well. Children naturally frown at elders who keep complaining about their health. Some elders tend to read too much of literature about diseases and their symptoms and they tend to imagine existence of such ailments in their bodies.
Some elders tend to exaggerate their ill health and love visiting doctors and gobbling up medicines; they use real or imagined ailments to gain sympathy from their offspring. Such tendencies are obviously detrimental to aging with dignity.
Don’t be a bore
One of the despicable qualities in most of the elders is their pride in past laurels – real or imagined. The moment a hapless visitor greets them, they would like to catch him as a prey to talk endlessly about their past, the achievements they made, the adoration they received and the respect they commanded.
Virtually every old person believes that the world was so good and great in yester years and everything has changed topsy-turvy in the present generation. Many old persons never get tired of fining fault with others. Old persons feel they are qualified for giving unsolicited advice and the younger generation takes to their heels upon encountering such persons.
Obviously, any old person who talks less about himself/herself but is an avid listener to the younger generation gets respect and love from them.
Contribute to social welfare
The post-retirement period is best for reformatting your lifestyle and making it tuned more toward the welfare of society. By taking part in church/ temple oriented spiritual activities or by associating oneself with non-governmental philanthropic activities, a retired person can spend his time and energy fruitfully for the welfare of society.
This is one sterling and singular quality that makes an old person respectable to everyone. As you grow older, detach yourself from the attractions of money, wealth, possessions and antiques. Detach yourself from expecting respect and reverence from others.
Detach yourself from expecting others to keep you informed of all the family matters and issues. Do not expect others to consult you and seek “your valuable counsel” for everything. Shower love on your grandchildren without expecting anything in return from them.
Engage yourself in developing spiritual qualities through religious austerities, by practicing yoga, japa (chanting God’s name), meditation, etc. Make sure to understand that engaging in such activities are meant to elevate your spiritual stature to a higher level and they are never meant to build your egotism to project yourself as a “highly pious and spiritual old person who has to be revered by all.”
Aging is the reality of life and it culminates in death one day. How to age gracefully and with dignity is one of the challenges of life that everyone should face and succeed at.