Reflection on cross-cultural differences in perceptions of aging

How cultures perceive the process of aging, may influence their behavior towards older people. When such perceptions become entrenched in society, the elderly may also become affected in respect to their approaches in dealing with the aging process. Whereas some cultures confer a higher level of respect to someone by virtue of ones age, other cultures only confer respect to an individual due to ones achievements, whether old or young. To illustrate these cross-cultural differences in the perception of aging, this paper compares my family’s and culture’s perception of aging to perceptions by families of different cultures.

My family’s perception of aging is probably an outcome of two factors – the family structure and the customs of my culture. Considering the family structure, my family is a close-knit unit where my grandparents have had critical role in our upbringing. For instance, I have often sought their intervention whenever I had disagreements with my parents on aspects such as my schooling. Occasionally, even my parents turn to my grandparents to seek guidance on life issues. With their vast experience in life, it is not uncommon to have them provide amicable resolution to aspects such as disputes between family members. Such a role they play in our family has instilled in us a great respect for the elderly. While growing up, for instance, my parents would always reprimand me whenever I failed to show due respect to the elderly in such places as in a bus or a train, by not offering them a seat if they boarded when the train or bus was already full. These instances exemplify how highly my family regards the aged, acknowledging their experience-based knowledge and according them the respect they deserve.

The customs of my culture have also influenced my culture’s perception of aging. My culture bestows a high regard to the elderly. For instance, the older members in the community have always been at the helm of the decision-making organs of society. Membership to such organs (e.g. the council of elders) requires one to have reached a particular age. The elders are also responsible for transferring the cultural practices of the community to the younger generations. Accordingly, my culture perceives aging as a core factor that confers one with knowledge to adjudicate on community issues, and lead the community on matters relating to cultural celebrations. Additionally, according to my culture, the youth have a role to cater for the elderly and provide protection to them in old age. Therefore, it was very uncommon, before the society norms became more individualized, to find an elderly individual without someone to take care of him or her, since society perceived the care of such elderly individuals to be its obligation.

In my interactions with families from other cultures, I have always found a divergent treatment of the older people from that of my culture. As an example, most of my friends’ families have arranged for their elderly grandparents to live in care homes. The interaction they usually have with their older family members is the occasional visits they make to such care homes. This in my culture is synonymous to running away from the obligation to take care of the elderly. By sending the aged to residential homes, such families seem to perceive the elderly as a source of disturbance in their homes. This is in contrast to my culture where the aged are looked upon for advice and cared for, within the family setting. Similarly, I have noticed that the elderly in such cultures, even when they remain within the family setting, do not play an important part as custodians of the family’s customs as is the case in my community. Whenever family disputes arise in this case, they are mainly played out in the courts; rarely are the elderly provided the chance to give advice based on their experience-gained knowledge. Therefore, such elderly individuals remain only as passive participants in family affairs.

Differences in cultural perceptions of aging, which this paper focused on by comparing my culture and those cultures that I have interacted with, highlight how behaviors towards the elderly may differ according to the culture. Whereas my culture considers the elderly as a source of experience-based knowledge hence an integral part of the family, some of my friends’ cultures do not have a high regard to such knowledge. For instance, my culture considers that the elderly should be cared for and protected within the family setting even at old age, whereas some of my friends’ cultures have no query with the elderly being cared for at residential homes. Although these cultural differences about aging exist, I feel that by allowing the elderly to actively engage in our family matters does not only make them feel appreciated but also motivates them to perceive aging as a positive attribute.

 

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