ONE of the most significant social transformations in this 21st century is population ageing, with persons aged 60 and above to number 1.4 billion globally by 2030.
The increase is most visible and rapid in the developing world, Malaysia included. Tomorrow has been designated International Day of Older Persons by the United Nations, aimed at highlighting their contributions to society and to raise awareness of the opportunities and challenges of a global ageing population.
Older people have always played a crucial role in society as leaders, caretakers and custodians of tradition. But they are also susceptible to their surroundings as they age — some fall into poverty, others become sick and disabled.
The lucky ones are looked after by their families or relatives, others are sent to homes.
Statistically, Universiti Malaysia’s Social Wellbeing Research Centre found that, by next year, there would be some 3.5 million Malaysians aged 60 and above, and by 2040, some 6.3 million, about 20 per cent of the population.
As Malaysians prepare for this, besides having the facilities and improved healthcare for the elderly, the one thing we must address, which is equally urgent, is the growing lack of respect for the elders by our young — a state of affairs that is also prevalent in many countries.
Examples of disrespectful behaviour include uncivil conduct, uttering insensitive comments, rude gestures, verbal and physical abuse, bullying and physical intimidation.
Experts say with increased education, there is greater sensitivity and empathy, but this would also depend on the human quality of the education, which ideally, “would expand the intellectual horizons of the young”.
Picture this — a 16-year-old girl publicly berates her mother for telling her to be polite to an immigration officer when her application for an international passport was incomplete; or a young woman not apologising after colliding with an elderly man in a supermarket; or a youth not offering his seat to a person in need during a train ride. Such scenes are common and disconcertingly fast becoming a norm.
Between the 1960s and 1990s, the young viewed elders as “arbiters of experiential knowledge”, says a 2016 study.
This was regardless of them having an education or not — they were seen as someone with “authority”, and hence, must be accorded respect and honour. It’s sad that today some educated youngsters are belligerent and think they are better than their elders.
How do we arrest this “social canker”? The most obvious is to address it from the root — schools must make moral education a part of their syllabus. The government’s move to integrate Civics Education in five subjects — Bahasa Melayu, English, Islamic Education, Moral Education and History — is a step in the right direction.
Teachers, too, must be trained in moral education before they can impart knowledge to our children.
A geriatrician advocates inculcating moral values by turning them into action. Then only are they effective and meaningful.
We need to practise what we preach to our children. This includes everyone working together to shape and nurture our children to be exemplary citizens, he says.