Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Three Dimensions of Old Age

Old age consists of visible changes in the physical condition of all who experience it.  Whether sooner or later, old people exhibit hearing loss, reduction in vision, a slow gait, some loss of memory in some people, wrinkled skin, and possible speech impairment.  Not all old folks have all of these disabilities, nor do they occur at the same age in everyone.  Nevertheless, old age is unavoidable unless we die young.

Now, age is not only a temporal and physical condition, it is also a status role.

Status is the sum of rights and privileges accorded members of any human group.  In primitive societies, age and sex are the only forms of status, in that old men are accorded great honor and prestige, while the young and women are viewed as lesser members of the group.

Every status also includes a role.  A role is the sum of our responsibilities and obligations.  For example, the status of husband involves the role of provider of food and other basic needs.  The status of teacher includes superior knowledge and willingness to deal with children, etc.

Age is also a status-role.  Children are expected to be students in a school, middle-aged people are expected to found a family and promote it, and old people, in American culture, are expected to keep quiet, submit to contempt, and to play the role of a doddering idiot.

The first method used to segregate the old is the use of language.  Such words as senile, obsolete, “over the hill,” codeger, geezer, old goat, “little old lady,” old fogey, etc., all reduce the targets, the old, to non-persons who do not deserve to be spoken to or given that minimum of courtesy assigned to all younger folks.

The use of language as the first step in reducing some people into becoming an outsider was well known to the Nazis.  By calling Jews non-Aryans and all others Aryans, they labeled Jews biologically inferior.  It was claimed that Jews are a race, not a religion.  Since religion can be changed but race cannot, Jews could not escape.  Likewise, old is a natural state that cannot be reversed.  Our society segregates people by age from birth on, as children attend pre-kindergarten and spend years in age segregated schools.  This segregation by age continues into adulthood, as middle-aged people talk only to each other, as do adolescents.  This is also true of the old, with one difference.  Old people lose friends and relatives, as many die while others move to senior citizens’ camps.  As time progresses, many old people lose all or most of their friends, and now seek to relate to younger people who will not deal with them.  Even at the dinner table, the old are ignored, as no one talks to them.  Finally, the old keep silent, as they have learned to play the role assigned to them.

That role may well mean that the children of the old consign them to so called nursing homes, which do not nurse and are not homes.  Nursing homes are advertised as wonderful havens for the old, who now have each other, if not their families.  In fact, nursing home residents usually live with a stranger who shares their room and with whom neither has anything in common.  Furthermore, almost all the possessions of the nursing home residents are stolen within a week or two of arrival.  The food is seldom to the liking of any resident, who never ate before what is offered them for the payment of $90,000 a year.  Those who have such sums are soon impoverished, so that they become beneficiaries of public charity, i.e. tax money paid by the federal government.  The entire condition of nursing homes is so depressing that most inmates sleep all day or doze in front of moronic television programs.

Usually, their children sell the homes of their old parents, now incarcerated.  The old are also urged to surrender their car keys.  From then on, they cannot drive anymore, and are permanently locked up.  Thus we dispose of our old people and get “the old geezers” out of our sight.

Ageism is so entrenched in the American psyche that it is accepted as right and normal.  While sexism and racism are denounced “from the rooftops” all day, ageism gets no attention at all.  Therefore only the old can help to alleviate their pain.  First, it is important not to play the role assigned to us.  Do not keep quiet.  Do not sleep all day.  Do not enter a nursing home, do not give away your car keys, do not laugh at anti-old age “jokes.”  Do not defer to younger loudmouths

Be productive.  Write a book or paint a picture or join a dance band or run for an office of take a course on American history at the nearest college or make several speeches or go to the gym, etc.  Above all, Illegitimati Non Carborundum – do not let the bastards grind you down.

Cheer up.  Speak up and do something productive.

Shalom u’vracha.

 Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).

Home ] Up ]