The process of aging has strong ties to many cultures across the world. Different cultures have different attitudes and practices around aging and death, and these cultural perspectives can have a huge effect on our experience of getting older. Here’s what we can learn from other cultures, both past and present, about embracing the aging process.
Native American Elders Passing Down Knowledge
Native American cultures traditionally accept death as a fact of life. There are over 500 Native American nations, and each has its own traditions and attitudes toward aging and elderly care, but nevertheless all those communities share a common trait in respecting elders for their wisdom and life experiences. Within Native American families, it’s common for the elders to be expected to pass down their learnings and experiences to younger members of the family to maintain their cultural roots.
Filial Piety In Korea and China
Confucius wrote in Analects. “A superior man is devoted to the fundamental. When the root is firmly established, the moral law will grow. Filial piety and brotherly respect are the root of humanity
Much of the Korean regard for aging is rooted in the Confucian principle of filial piety, a fundamental value dictating that one must respect one’s parents. Younger members of the family have a duty to care for the aging members of the family. And even outside the family unit, Koreans are socialized to respect and show deference to older individuals as well as authority figures. It’s also customary in Korea to have a big celebration to mark an individual’s 60th and 70th birthdays. The hwan-gap, or 60th birthday, is a joyous time when children celebrate their parents’ passage into old age. The age is thought to be reason for celebration in part because many of their ancestors would not have survived past the age of 60 without the advances of modern medicine. A similar large family celebration is held for the 70th birthday, known as kohCui (“old and rare”).
Chinese families traditionally view filial piety and respect for one’s elders as the highest virtue. Although westernization has lessened the power of these values in some cities and communities, adult children are still generally expected to care for their parents in their old age. However, this tradition is beginning to break down in China, due to the country’s one-child policy, rising life expectancy and an aging population.
Head Of Indian Families
Many Indians live in joint family units, with the elders acting as the head of the household. The elders are supported by the younger members of the family and they in turn play a key role in raising their grandchildren. Advice is always sought from them on a range of issues ranging from religious and cultural, family relations, finances, and often have final say. However there still lies a stigma amongst Indians where disrespecting your elders or sending your elderly parent to an old folk’s home is viewed as a cardinal sin.
Celebrating Life In Death In Africa
In African culture, death is seen as part of the “natural rhythm of life,” which lessens the cultural fear around aging. African funerals tend to be life-affirming and to have a celebratory air intermingled with the sorrow.
Ancient Rome: Wise Elders
Though the average life expectancy in ancient Rome was around 25, some individuals did live into their 70s, and they were generally respected for their wisdom.
The Romans made use of their elderly and had faith in their wisdom and experience, although those same older individuals had to earn that high status of respect by living a virtuous life and were expected to act with moderation and dignity at all times. The old had to be an example to the young, as it was thought that he young learned by example, which was ingrained in Roman society.