Elders and the Reverence for Life
It was no less a
person than Social Services Minister Felix Perera who disclosed
recently that on the average some three elders are left
abandoned on local roads. That quite a few of our elders end up
in Homes for the Elders and such institutions is no longer news,
although this information too should be considered unsettling by
what are considered Lankan standards on these matters. However,
this revelation of the total abandonment of some of our elders
in completely unfamiliar and may be even hostile surroundings,
should shock the consciences of the civilized. It is food for
thought today, which is dedicated to the world's elders and its
This subject of caring for the elderly has been widely
discussed and commented on over the past decade or so and we
would not be saying anything new by stating that Sri Lanka, like
most other developing countries, should gear-up to face the
reality of a steadily increasing elderly population segment.
That is, the obligation of caring for the elderly, on the part
of society as well as the state, will grow in magnitude in the
coming years. In this respect, we are told, Sri Lanka would be
comparable to most Western countries which are facing the same
reality of a growing number of older citizens who would need to
be fended for.
In a way, it is highly ironic that Sri Lanka too needs to
observe 'Days' of the year for elders and children. For, such
practices in relation to these population segments are
considered alien and antithetical to the local ethos and culture
which has, rightly, been seen as customarily caring and
accommodative of the young and the old. If special 'Days' are
seen to be necessary now to bring into focus the condition of
the old and the young, we could only conclude that the
perception is not widespread in this country any longer that the
relevant population segments should be continuously cared for.
That a 'discourse' on elders and children has come into being
now is reflective of the drastic changes which have come over
the local culture over the years. Such 'discourses' too are
antithetical to traditional Sri Lankan culture because caring
for the old and the very young has been considered second nature
by most Lankans. Moreover, it is equally revelatory that
economics dominate these 'discourses' and not humanitarian
issues as such.
Today, the thinking and planning over the bourgeoning elderly
component in our population centre on whether the individual
citizen, the family and the country could generate and sustain
the necessary material means and money to cover the 'costs'
incurred by our elders. Humanity and the need to revere life,
which are seen as integral to traditional Lankan culture, are,
significantly, out of current thinking on fending for our
elders. This is a measure of the extent to which purely
utilitarian and practical concerns are dominating contemporary
thinking and planning on these questions.
However, one cannot be too judgmental on these issues.
Traditional culture has been steadily eroded over the years by
the crude materialism which 'market reforms' and the consumerist
ethos, which is typical of neo-liberalism, have unleashed. If,
both, the individual citizen and the public are tending to lose
their moral bearings, they cannot be harshly criticized over it.
For, erosive forces are at work, which are beyond their control.
While issues concerning our elders have not reached crisis
proportions because some 77 percent of our elders continue live
with their children, what one should find intriguing is the
statistic that only 13 percent of them enjoy emotional support.
This translates into the fact that although children and elders
continue to co-exist physically, the latter do not enjoy the
emotional security they crave for. Such disclosures should have
the state and the citizenry thinking. While physical closeness
matters very much, this would amount to nothing without
The emotional needs of particularly the elderly and the young
cannot be met by legislative enactments. Nor could they be
fulfilled by Executive fiat. The elders' and children's main
emotional needs are love and caring and these are met by the
outpourings of the care givers' hearts, which in turn result
from an attitude of Reverence for Life. The latter virtue is the
offspring of profound spirituality whose domain is religion.
Accordingly, the responsibility devolves on our religions and
their allied institutions to foster in the heart and mind the
ethic of Reverence for Life which is the sustainer of wholesome