The Perception of ageing and ageism in our Contemporary Society

By Peter Reat Gatkuoth

The recognition of the inherent dignity, and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, Justice and peace in our contemporary society” (Dr. Agarwal, 650).

November 25, 2011 (SSNA) — The perceptions of ageing and the abuse of elderly population in our contemporary society are of substantial importance for middle aged people as this issue is relating to many things in our daily life and the stage we are moving forward. Aging in Africa is the concept that traditional invokes the image of respects, reverence; and the knowledge that is passed down from the generation to generations. In most instances, the image of aging nowadays becomes tainted. Some global communities that always have had a great respect to their old population have now approached their old ages with disdain and intolerance.

The good example is the United State of America where old age groups are considered a worthless subset of community instead of considering their valuable contribution in the global society. Getting old in America is not socially acceptable occurrence. Contempt and disrespect stem from the aspect of aging against one’s will and it became a constant thing, with people looking upon older people as slow at work, incapable, broken down and virtually worthless individuals.

In the same token, it is also true in some developing nations especially Africa where old aged windows women are isolated, persecuted and being accused of witchcraft practice. “The standing of older people in the community, largely based on age and wisdom is being eroded in some African countries as urbanization and migrations have led to the isolation and neglect of older population by their relatives.”

It has been noted across many findings that our contemporary society has successfully carried on this current tradition of impertinence in many aspect by forcibly pushing and neglecting the older people out of the workforce, and in the community in blatant display of irreverence. This perception has been carried on by raising young people with negative attitude of growing old or becoming old.

This perception “holds a number of alarming misconceptions” that remains as a tale to young people. It indicates a negative images as well as negative hope from us the generations that are moving next to the stage. I know one of my older friends, older than my age that always change his age in the document as if it will reduce the ageing time. The gap between his first born son and him is almost 11 years old, yet he kept changing his age to the younger age.  The old age stage becomes something one could not even imagine to think about as a stage of where you can lecture your experiences to the people who are in need. It always become as a stage of suffering, and most elderly population are undergoing human right abuse, degrading treatment, cruel and discrimination against their own rights.

The current global ageing is linked to many rising entrenched and alarming problems that need an urgent respond and considerations. Knowing that our old ages population are facing an increasingly complex problem would be a positive step to address these concerns. These problems range from maltreatment, discrimination against the older population at workforce and the human right abuses against their will in our global society.

The concept of getting old in America has a lot of negative perception and connotations. This perception is easily identified if you choose to do casual Model of possible determinants of general opinion on Aging by encouraging a debate between the ladies. If you tell one of the ladies that she is younger than the others, then you cause a noisy dispute disagreement. Majority of ladies can jump up and confrontation may continue,  telling each other that she is youngest than the rest, and this could be a serious confrontation  because ladies do not like to be levelled as old age….this is a serious matter if you do not wanted to get into issue with ladies.

Thinking of going to nursing home is not just simply the idea of isolation from older folks but full neglect or getting rid of the old folks in the houses or public space. Some children always fear to meet with the older people because they were kept in separate places where interaction is not that easy between the ages. The concept of aging has been perceived negatively by many school children and other adult because most of them learnt this concept of aging from “negative perceptions and discriminatory prejudice.” Most people who had learnt “negative images” usually have a negative attitude about aging. For example, in the United State of America where many people focus on “health, wealth and youthfulness; negative attitude about aging are most prevalent.

Some studies had brought many questions to why many people view old age as a major problem. One of the readings I found indicated that “positive perceptions toward aging usually increase longevity while negative attitude about aging always lead to a negative health.” This studies has clearly stated that “leaving work earliest for retirement is one of the worse choices” because the more the older persons stay at home without working, the more they will be weak, sick and think about their health or aging associated matter.

It worth knowing that negative attitude formed in early childhood becomes progressively difficult to change. This is true because basic beliefs and socializations are often learnt earliest in life and sometimes from young people.  I personally approved this concept because my own son (Nuer Peter) who has been taught wrongly in grade three by his teacher that “when we become hundred years old, we will died (well that is logic but do we need to teach the children who knew nothing about how the life will end:- in Africa perspective, no?).” When the little boy come home, he always asked me that “dad what gonna happen when we become old” because he has kept that statement in his mind that “we will died when we become hundred years old.” This indicates that children that learnt negative images about growing old and other wrong orientation about life are difficult to change if not handling in early age.

It would be of great interest that those who live in North America should use their times to allow their little kids to interact with old people. Intergenerational contact is more successful in promoting positive attitude toward our old age population. Basically this meant that learning interaction between the generations should help young people to gain some positive views. If young people or children have dialogues with old people in daily base, it will help them to have positive attitude toward the older age and may eventually help reduce or erase the negative perception or connotation of ageism.

African culture is one of the best cultures in the world that reflects, and considered the value of old ages groups in society. When one becomes older, people give him/her much respect and his/her contribution is always been acknowledged. In some case, people travel in far distant to ask the oldest man in society if there are cases that need the explanation from the experienced old person. Children are taken by their grandmothers and their grandfathers until they grown up as an adults. Some of them usually know the mother side’s family because they were with their grandmother since they were young.

Although there are more taboo and mistreatment in some communities against the older people, the culture of African relied on great respect to the older generations. The main problem by then is the issue of urban migrations where old people are unable to move to the towns and leave their villages. Old generations are usually left unattended and in some circumstance, they undergone some degrading treatment from the others such as the accusation of being witchcraft, other negative perceptions and human right abuse against their own rights.

If the society managed to educate and proposed more interaction learning mechanism, and integrate the issue of ageing perception into curriculum, then the African society should be the best society that value the old and the young people’s contribution. Elders should have their turn to train the youngest generations who are coming after them and therefore; influence them positively to move on with respect of human kind and human dignity. Although some of “the old age’s physical capabilities declined with aging,” there is a possibility that older ages perform a better work than the young people because they always commit their times to work than doing other enjoyable things such as going to club, having dating appointment, and meeting peer groups. Older workers are the backbone of the future generations, and their contribution is recognized as valuable to our contemporary society; therefore, let us be sincere when dealing with our old fathers, mothers and old generations at large.

The author lives in San Jose, Central America. He is a graduate student at the UN Mandated University of Peace, department of international law and Human Rights. You can reach him at [email protected] or visit his blog at

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