I once read one famous writer (who’s name I can’t recall) say that the decline of modern society can be viewed in how we dump our elders as soon as they’re no longer useful to us. In the US especially, and in other “more modern” Western societies, elderly get put into nursing homes once they’re too old to be any “real use to anyone”. There was one Native American tribe I read about some time back (no longer in existence) where elderly who were too old to be put to work were sent off into the forest as a sacrifice to the wild spirits there. Not surprisingly, that tribe didn’t survive long.
In the longest-lived areas of the world that boast the greatest numbers of centenarians, elderly are respected and cherished. Families often live as one big unit either sharing a home with ageing parents who help to look after children or else living within easy walking distance of each other. In our “modern” Western world we often move far away from family, sometimes to the other side of the country or even across the world. Children see it as a right of passage to make their way into the world somewhere far away from the influence of family. Hey I’m guilty myself of that transgression: moving to London far away from where my family lives. And I’m left missing them ever since.
But what does it really bring? Loneliness, the feeling of an empty nest when children leave, the stressful life of a big city…
In the Blue Zones, loneliness isn’t really an issue as families always have each other and everyone puts loved ones first. It means that children are raised with the love of grandparents and even great grandparents and elders look forward to getting older and watching their families grow. Most couples mate for life and look forward to the expansion of their family tree over time. Families enjoy the help of all family members to make life easier and alleviate some of the stress, and respect the wisdom and insight that age and long life brings. Elders are valued rather than dismissed. Hence they look forward to a long life as they see plenty to live for.
In our modern Western world elders often feel bad for being a nuisance to the younger generation and come to a point where they feel they have little to live for. Once we give up on life, what more is there to keep us here?
The family dynamics of the Blue Zones is something we should all strive for rather than aiming to get away from. If we valued the older generation more, imagine the wisdom we would have the pleasure of finding. Rather than now when we dismiss those who aren’t young as “old fashioned” and “not modern”. When we’re young we think we own the world and that it owes us everything. But what we forget is that eventually (should we be so lucky), we will also be the elders. And how we treat our elders is how we show our children that it’s ok to treat us.
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