Contempt for the Old

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Punishment Without Crime


American law penalizes criminal behavior, but not, as in many dictatorships, the beliefs, opinions, or ethnic origin of the citizens.

There is, however, one exception to this. That is the crime of being old.

Old age is an offense which is not tolerated in this country, and for which the punishment is imprisonment, theft, abandonment, rejection, and contempt.

There are about 20,000 suicides in the United States each year, many of which are brought on by the manner in which the old are treated here.

Those among the old who are sent to so-called nursing homes soon find that they will be serving a life sentence for which there is no escape. The manner in which this is usually achieved comes about when an old person falls and breaks his hip or otherwise is hospitalized. During this hospitalization, the adult children and other relatives sell the old personís house, so that on being released from the hospital the old woman or old man have nowhere to go, no home, and no place to stay other than a nursing home.

Nursing homes are of course not homes, nor do they nurse anyone. In nursing homes, the so-called patients spend almost all the time in bed, both during the day and at night, sleeping so as to avoid thinking about their abandonment and their rejection. Many nursing home patients skip breakfast or even lunch while lying in bed. Nursing home patients donít speak to each other. That is why almost all nursing homes are places of utter silence. Nursing home patients are often drugged and placed in rocking chairs in front of television, where they fall asleep.

Nursing home patients share a room with another patient who theyíve never seen before and who may be obnoxious to them. Yet the rest of their lives they have to live with someone who makes their lives miserable. Nursing home patients are also subject to theft. Anyone who enters a nursing home and brings with him jewelry, money, or anything of value at all will find it stolen within a day or two by those who work there. The Social Security pensions of nursing home patients are cashed by the owners, so that the patient never sees that money and is therefore destitute and totally dependent on what nursing home management will let him have.   

There are some relatives who occasionally visit an old person in a nursing home, which does alleviate the pain a little bit. Yet, in sum, imprisonment in a nursing home is a nightmare which no human being deserves, even if he has committed the crime of being old.

The number of old folks in nursing homes are a minority. Most of those who are still married live together in their own home, or, if widowed, live alone. Those who stay in their own homes are of course much more fortunate than those who end up in nursing homes. Nevertheless they too suffer a great deal from abandonment.

Not only old people, but people of all ages contemplate the effort they have made on the part of their children and grandchildren. It is difficult to forget the struggle to raise the next generation, the extra effort and favors done children and grandchildren, and the love expended on their behalf. Yet in old age, children and grandchildren generally forget, or want to forget, the benefits they received from the previous generation, and therefore abandon them and do not speak to them any longer, do not visit them, and generally pretend that they donít know them.

Some time ago an old woman placed an ad in a major city newspaper in which she promised to pay one dollar to anyone who would call her. The ad included her telephone number and the comment that no one had spoken to her in months and that she was totally and absolutely isolated. That is a terrible fate which many old people have to endure until they die. There are many who are found weeks and months dead in their house or apartment, having been absolutely forgotten or ignored by relatives, including adult children.

Old folks also are the target of contempt. This is particularly visible in doctors' offices. Here the employees of doctors who view the patients as plantation slaves scream out the first names of the patient to be seen next. In order to exhibit contempt for the patients, doctors usually let patients wait for hours. It is by no means unusual for patients to wait even four hours in the doctor's office before being seen for five minutes or less. This technique gives doctors a second income called a psychic income. That income consists of reducing the patient to a nonperson by letting him wait so long. The doctor enjoys the superiority that he collects from those whom he treats with so much arrogance. This kind of contempt is not limited to doctors' offices.

Old people everywhere are often treated like morons and are rejected out of hand because of their wrinkled faces, their white hair, their bent backs, and their shuffling gait.

In a culture which holds old age in contempt, it is difficult to avoid the treatment just outlined. The only solution to this kind of degradation collected for the crime of being old is to be productive.

Productivity in old age is difficult to attain unless one has been productive for a lifetime. Those who retire from any occupation at 65 or 70 are usually confronted with nothing to do. They may travel a while, but soon find that unsatisfactory, thereby wasting the remainder of their lives playing cards or watching television.

There are a few who have written and published books over a lifetime and who can continue to do so in old age. There are others who occupied their spare time participating in musical orchestras and continue to do that too in their old age. Some people paint, having done this for many years, while others start a business of their own and enjoy meeting customers and watching it grow..

These activities are indeed a shield against rejection, insult, and contempt, and alleviate the pain that the crime of old age has brought upon them.

Shalom uívracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including End of the Patriarchy (2015).


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