What do you know about the people living around you? Does it affect the way you view them?
Part of my work involves talking with elderly people. It is a real privilege. I get to hear stories of times gone by, and of moments in their lives that many others have forgotten. Some of the people I see are confused and muddled, and I often hear the same stories more than once. Some are very deaf, and it can be hard to communicate with them at all. Others are totally lucid, and it is astonishing to realise that they are long past the age of retirement.
I was struck when I heard about the career of someone I had known for years. Her husband told me that before she had had children, she had been a quantum physicist. How was it that I hadn’t known about it before? Why hadn’t I thought to ask?
Perceptions of others
Given this knowledge, my perception of the lady shifted. I already knew that she was a force to be reckoned with, and that she dedicated much of her time to working for charity and to helping others. So, should it matter what she “did”? What was it that made me change my view?
I guess it comes down to status. The way we interact with people is different, depending on the way we perceive their social or professional standing. We may treat a policeman with more respect if he is wearing his uniform that we would if we were chatting to him in the pub, unaware of his line of work.
A relative of my husband’s used to enjoy introducing me to people as a “teacher”. It seemed command respect in others by association. Once I stopped teaching to further my studies, she no longer introduced me to people at all! I am not sure if it was because a “student” was less worthy of introduction, or if I was somehow less desirable to know as a person. I can giggle about it now, but it was hurtful at the time.
I feel that somehow I have insulted the lady I mentioned before by having a new opinion of her. Would it have mattered if she had not worked at all? The society we live in seems to value people according to what they give back. What I find challenging is that what we give back is only seen in economic terms, rather than having a less materialistic view. Some people give much back in the way of voluntary work, and in caring for a family, but this is not always appreciated by the powers that be.
Views of society
The elderly are also seen as being a “problem” to our society these days. Because of advancements in health care, people are living for longer and longer, and elderly people can be seen as a burden on resources. It does not matter what they contributed in their former years – once they stop being of benefit to others, they are less deserving of the community’s care. I feel deeply sad about this view.
How can we change the situation? Perhaps we can change our own perceptions. Can we make more time to talk to elderly people living around us, or our own relatives? If we know more about them and what has been important in their lives, will we personally value them more? Whatever they got up to in their younger years, will this raise their status in our eyes?
I have blogged before about how our feelings and actions can make a difference to those around us. How we interact others can shape their day. I wonder how we can change the views of others by making the elderly more of a priority in our own feelings and actions?
Have a conversation at a deeper level with an elderly neighbour or relative. Ask them what is important to them. Does this raise their status in your eyes?
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