While looking for something on YouTube recently, I ran across a video of comedian George Carlin from, probably, 20 years ago. Carlin, who died in 2008 could be crude, but he was funny, and the video I watched was on “euphemisms.”
For those who may have forgotten the term, an online dictionary defines euphemism as “the substitution of a mild, indirect, or vague expression for one thought to be offensive, harsh, or blunt.”
Most of us use euphemisms regularly, probably mostly unconsciously, but when I worked as a journalist, we were discouraged from using them. After all, their use clashes with the objective of “telling it like it is,” which, despite the skepticism of so many these days, is still an aim of good journalism.
In any case, Carlin gave funny examples, such as the evolution of the term “shell shock” in WWII to describe battlefield trauma – a simple, direct, descriptive term – to the term “operational exhaustion” in the Korean War (which he says sounds like something that happens to your car) to “post-traumatic stress disorder” in the Vietnam era. He also lamented substituting “bathroom tissue” for toilet paper and “disinformation” for “lies.”
And he spent a lot of time talking about how we describe “old people,” a term many people find distasteful, and the substitution of “older,” which many people find less offensive. Or, saying someone is “90 years young” or calling us “senior citizens.” He chalked these euphemisms up to the fear of aging and dying, and I agree.
I’m not concerned about how my age is described unless it shows disrespect and saying that I’m old doesn’t do that, in my opinion. My age is a fact. But this brings up a subject that I believe deserves discussion among people searching for God. Do old people deserve respect? And does our society respect them?
Everybody Is Aging
My answer to the first is definitely. But not necessarily because we’re old but because every human being deserves respect and we shouldn’t lose respect just because we age. After all, everybody is aging. And our dignity doesn’t come from our physical appearance or abilities but from our status as children of God.
The second question is harder to answer.
I would say it’s a mixed bag. Contemporary culture, if indeed there is one, is a bit tough on the elderly, I believe, because it values youth more than ever. Except for ads for medicines, TV advertising prefers healthy young people and if they must show “aging” people, it’s people who are jogging, riding bikes or lounging side-by-side in bathtubs while admiring the sunset.
Along with the unborn and the poor, Pope Francis includes the elderly among victims of the “throwaway culture,” the people and things considered useless.
“A people that does not have care for [the elderly], that does not treat them well, has no future,” he has said. “Such a people loses its memory and its roots.” Searchers for God can’t be among those people.
Personally, I’ve almost always been treated with respect by young people, in my family and among friends but also from restaurant waiters and waitresses and people in retail establishments. And I know there are thousands of young people, unsung heroes perhaps, who take care of the elderly in nursing homes, hospitals and doctors’ offices.
So I’m not sure we elderly have much to complain about. This blog is merely meant to remind those searching for God that everyone deserves respect because God, the author of life, loves them. So why shouldn’t we?