Thursday, June 8, 2017

Veneration


David Hackett Fischer wrote in Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (America: a cultural history) <http://amzn.to/2rQBVzq>:
From childhood to the grave, the Puritans of Massachusetts had strong views on every stage of life. This was specially the case in regard to old age, and age-relations in general. On these subjects, the customs of New England were shaped by Puritan beliefs.  
In the twentieth century, Americans share an exceptionally strong bias toward youth. We fear the process of aging, and despise old age. Further, our system of social rank is so centered on wealth that other criteria of status such as age operate only when they can be translated into materialist terms. So dominant is our materialistic ranking system today that other customs are not merely unfamiliar; they are inconceivable.  
The people of seventeenth-century New England lived in another world. They carefully cultivated an attitude of respect for the old, and ranked people in proportion to their age. “These two qualities go together, the ancient and the honorable,” wrote Cotton Mather. “If any man is favored with long life,” wrote Increase Mather, “it is God who has lengthened his days.”  
The moral posture which young people were taught to assume before their elders was unlike that of any other social relationship. It was summarized in a word now lost from common usage: veneration, which came from the Latin deponent verb veneror, venerari, “to regard with religious awe and reverence.” Veneration took on a special meaning among the Puritans, who more than others made a cult of age.  
...They believed that the small numbers of godly men and women who lived to old age were the saving remnant of the race. Every Puritan moralist who wrote upon this subject agreed that old age was a sign of grace. 


23 comments:

  1. It seems that ageism is one of the remaining acceptable isms in our country. The word "old" is almost always pejorative.

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  2. Sadly true. A sign of the times? In other countries, elders are embraced and cared for by younger family members. Generations live together. My neighbor has a son living in China with his Chinese wife and they plan to move to the USA. This move will include the wife's parents and a home purchase to accommodate everyone.

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  3. I'm currently commenting from South Korea where veneration of age is something that is very alive and real. On my train ride from the airport to the apartment where I'm staying this week I saw no less than six teenagers/twenty-somethings give up their seats to elderly people. I then saw an elderly person give up her seat to a very tired looking young mom with two toddlers who put up a fight before finally accepting after the lady insisted she sit. South Korea has it's flaws but that is not one of them.

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    1. How refreshing to read this post and your reply in particular. In my mind, I can "see" this happening in the youth of South Korea or other Asian cultures. What on earth are we teaching our youth in America today? I don't like to generalize, so I'll say not all are like that, but so many are so oblivious to the respect earned and deserved to elders.

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    2. It's both part of the Korean Confucian culture of respect for parents and elders (which is still very strong) and part of their train etiquette, that you give up your seat for the elderly. And the seats at the ends of each train car are basically reserved for the elderly and are specially marked.

      One time my wife and I were traveling on the subway in Seoul when a college student offered her seat to me. I was really embarrassed and at first was trying to decline (I'm really not that old), but my wife whispered to me in English, if you don't take the seat you are not honoring her respect for you, which is really rude. (I think she was yielding her seat both because I was seen both as an elder and a 히 국 사 람 (waeguk saram = foreigner) who are also treated with respect most of the time in Korea.) Anyway, I did my best to thank her as she was later getting off the train, and she smiled so that was good.

      I would mention that if you don't yield up your seat on the train to a 할머니 (halmoni = lit. grandmother) you may very well get an earful from her about your rudeness.

      One of the things I appreciate about Korea is that a lot of the traditional Confucian virtues about respectful behavior towards others are still hard-wired into the culture (I think more so than in other present Asian societies), which is actually kind of refreshing. Of course, if you're at the other end of the spectrum (the younger, lower in status) sometimes it's not so great. But it tends to work out. So when folks at the office go out for dinner and drinks with the boss, you have to be respectful and pour his/her drinks. But on the other hand, because they are the elder they often end up picking up the tab for everyone.

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    3. I teach etiquette to children, teens, adults and business professionals and admittedly, these are not skills that are in high demand or generally esteemed in America. It used to be that we were a nation that cared for one another but that tide has shifted to becoming a nation that cares about ourselves. The "give up your seat" rule is still being taught in my profession but unfortunately, it is not built into the culture the way Beresford described it in the Korean Confucian culture. It breaks my heart and is a constant source of frustration to watch America promote everything youth oriented while blatantly disregarding the beauty of old age and the wisdom that accompanies it. Kindness and courtesy are built on respect and that is what is missing today; respect for self, respect for others, and respect for authority. I loathe to watch how America has fallen to the lowest rungs of politeness while countries such as England and Japan rank at the top. There are a complicated mix of reasons/theories about how this boorish behavior came about, but sumise to say, manners and respect begin in the home and generally, we adults, for a number of generations, have not done our jobs as well as we could have.

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    4. Hear Hear! It is a question of respect and it is a question of honor. It is honorable to do the right thing. It is honorable to respect someone who has done nothing for you personally but has more years of experience than you. I was going through security at the airport yesterday and the line was quite long. The TSA agent invited an elderly couple to skip the line and go through security. A man who was 25 years younger was irate and said he was going to file a complaint. I might understand that if they were young kids or something, but an elderly couple? My parents taught me to remove my hat when I entered a building (to this day I can't enter a grocery store, pharmacy, or regular store without removing my hat which sometimes make me wonder why I even bother to wear one), to stand when a lady enters the room, to offer my seat to a woman or someone older than me. They also taught me to address my adults as Mr., Mrs., or Ms. My wife's parents, in contrast, were much more liberal and she never addressed adults by anything other than a first name. It's quite interesting the value that different cultures place on seniority.

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    5. Hear, Hear back to you Anon@3:10! You hit the nail on the head on every polite point you made. What's interesting is that many sectors of society think that these concepts are quaint and outdated, that nice guys get left behind. These are not obsolete concepts because good manners never go out of style! We happen to be a nation that tends to throw the baby out with the bath water as new trends come along, but placing value on a person, and showing dignity and honor never die!

      What galls me is when I hear women chastise men for holding or opening doors for them because they feel offended as though they are considered the weaker sex. Nothing could be further from the truth. What people don't understand is that women have always held, and still do according to modern etiquette standards, the higher position on the social ladder (in business situations they are equal, however). It would behoove women if they graciously accepted kind gestures from the opposite sex as a show of respect, but I'm afraid, such are the state of affairs in many instances, that women have scared men off from showing any kind of politeness for fear of getting slapped in the face. Just for the record, it is no longer just the man's responsibility to hold doors - everyone is required to look out for others, especially younger people for older and elderly persons.

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  4. In Sydney...the elderly (excellent word with a puritan flair) and the mothers get off the ferries before anyone else. It was wonderfully refreshing to see.

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  5. My dad is 80. He just finished building a new house for him and my mom last year (he wields a hammer, not a nail gun). I'm proud that he's so healthy and active; he can keep pace with a healthy 30-something when it comes to labor in the sweltering Alabama summer. But sometimes it makes me sad that he feels he still has to. I wish he would feel that he's earned the right to sit in the cool shade and tell others what to do. He is a wonderful man, worthy of all honor and respect. I wish he felt more comfortable letting us venerate him.

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  6. One of the laws of the Woodcraft League of America, which experienced some success among New England summer camps in the early and mid 20th century, was "Be silent while your elders are speaking, and otherwise show them deference."

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  7. As I have, several years ago, passed the half way point for average life expectancy, and begun to feel the physical changes that wear and tear of youth cause on an aging body, I think to myself how much longer will I be allowed in society to be relevant? How long before the eye rolls greet my perspective and someone says, "There, there, Sir. Drink your Ensure and don't worry about that."

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    1. You will forever as long as you live be as relevant to others as you are now.

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    2. Actually, I'm really enjoying now being "IR-relevant." ;-) It's GREAT not to have all those societal expectations: Constant career achievements, "fitness" discipline, board membership and other must-go obligations. Not a darned thing wrong with kicking back and ENJOYING life for a change . . . and paying others who need the job good money to do most of the heavy lifting!

      Really astounding, when you sit there and analyze it long enough, how many of our cultural "expectations" are a direct brain programming by Madison Avenue . . .

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  8. I have recently had a conversation on this very topic with a dear friend about our twenty-something daughters and their blatant disrespect. They were not raised this way and we are decidedly not permissive enough parents to endure degradation in the name of adulthood and being their own person. Our children were raised to be respectful, to think before speaking and to use their command of the English language to convey what they wished to say carefully and concisely. Neither of us have answers and are hoping they return to the values they were raised with. The sooner the better.

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  9. I'm the oldest member of our family. When I attained the benchmark age of 65 two months ago, I informed all my relatives that I was now the "Senior Lady" of the family (like Lady Violet on DOWNTON ABBEY - hahaha!) and expected to be treated as such. Even though that was an ironic, tongue-in-cheek comment, damned if they aren't all complying. WIN!

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  10. About Ensure, mentioned above .... I'm a vegetarian, aware of adequate protein intake, and cook most of my food from scratch. That can be time-consuming, and occasionally I get really busy and there's no time. For quick nutrition on the go, I love the convenience of Ensure, so it's not just for the elderly with failing appetites.

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  11. I hung around with a lot of older family members as I was growing up - grandparents from both sides, and their friends. They treated me with humor and indulgence that they never applied with their own children. They told me great stories of their lives/hardships/adventures. We all have children now and rotate them among the older members of the family during holidays, school breaks - trying to keep up the tradition. With extended/multi-generational families being together no longer possible logistically, I wonder if this early exposure to and growing up among elders has anything to do with attitude of caring/respect for people of older generations.

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    1. Me too! I loved hanging with the older folks and listening to their stories. Our next door neighbor was an older lady, Hannah, and instead of out playing, some days I'd prefer to be next door sipping homemade iced tea and hanging out with her. --Holly in PA

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  12. Well, to be fair, Cotton Mather died at 65, which seems much less ancient to me at 55, than it used to. Increase stuck around a lot longer.

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  13. This country, while great, has a lot of priorities backwards. Age is definitely one of them. I've seen respect for the elderly plummet in these recent decades of increasing child worship. --Holly in PA

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