“O Tempora, O Mores!”
(Marcus Tullius Cicero 106-43 B.C.: In Catilinam)
There seems to be a conspiracy with the sole aim of constantly reminding me that I am over the hill… past history… or to put it in polite terms a senior citizen… or in not so polite terms an “old fart”.
And whom do you think these “reminders” come from? Who else?… my family and friends… all of whom are in the same age group as I am. With other words… and in not so polite words; old farts are reminding me that I am one of them… As if I didn’t already know it…
I do not so much mind the fact that I am old, after all if you live long enough you cannot prevent old age and it has at least one advantage, namely the absolute knowledge that - no matter what - I can no longer die young; but why do I have to be constantly reminded about this fact?
The reminders come in various guises, some subtle and some not so subtle, but the ones that really get under my skin are the steady bombardment of emails from friends, relatives and acquaintances all claiming to be “cute” with the exclamation “You must really read this!” and containing jokes or “Pearls of Wisdom” about, or related to old age. Why do I have to be the target and recipient of such reminders? Why couldn’t they send their pearls of wisdom to uncouth youth instead, reminding them that they are mindless little morons? I know I am old, I know I am over the hill, I know that I show all the signs of ageing, I don’t need to be reminded of it, whilst it may be far more constructive to remind unruly youngsters that their behaviour is, at best, socially unacceptable and at its worst intolerable.
Most of such emails hit the bin immediately, but a few – very few – raises an occasional chuckle, whilst even fewer will make me think. Very recently I received one such email and these lines of mutterings are the result of the effect it had on me. That email neither glorified nor did it ridicule, or even gently mock old age, or senior citizens in general, but rather reflected on the lack of some values that our generation held high and which all but disappeared from present day western society’s code of ethics, morals and general behaviour.
I give below the centrepiece of that email in the format I received:
Senior citizens are constantly being criticized for every conceivable deficiency of the modern world, real or imaginary. We know we take responsibility for all we have done and do not blame others.
HOWEVER, upon reflection, we would like to point out that it was NOT the senior citizens who took:
The melody out of music,
The pride out of appearance,
The courtesy out of driving,
The romance out of love,
The commitment out of marriage,
The responsibility out of parenthood,
The togetherness out of the family,
The learning out of education,
The service out of patriotism,
The Golden Rule from rulers,
The civility out of behaviour,
The refinement out of language,
The dedication out of employment,
The prudence out of spending,
The ambition out of achievement, or,
God out of government and school.
And we certainly are NOT the ones who eliminated patience and tolerance from personal relationships and interactions with others!!
For the sake of illustration and argument let us regard the above as a “list of deficiencies” and it is quite apparent that the above “list” is less than complete. Responsibility was not taken out of parenthood alone, but from almost all aspects of life and was substituted with ill-defined liberties and well defined “politically correct” rights, enshrined in hastily drafted laws and constitutions, without the slightest regard to the consequences of granting such rights. Many of those rights were given to some minority groups, with total disregard to their responsibilities towards the majority and a complete disregard to the majorities rights and sentiments, which, in practice, is nothing but a blueprint for a disaster waiting to happen. Many of the rights enshrined in employment laws too are the cause of the lack of dedication and responsibility in employment. No wonder that the consequences are disappearing jobs, downsizing and “globalisation” of companies that reduce employment opportunities in one country, only to make up the deficiency in the workforce by recruiting a substitute workforce – at reduced costs – in an underdeveloped country. No doubt the “politically correct” answer is that such shifts serve underdeveloped countries and help to eliminate poverty there. Maybe so, but what of the long-term effects in the country where the workforce is shrinking?
But leaving the politically contentious issues out of the discussion for the moment and just thinking about the “deficiencies” listed above, is enough to depress our generation and force us to think where we might have gone wrong, to allow a younger generation to grow up with such diminished values and responsibilities, whilst constantly challenging society, demanding more and more rights, without giving an ounce of thought to personal responsibilities.
Does an individual have the right to expect – for instance – free medical treatment, provided out of increased taxation – with other words at the expense of others – after prolonged self inflicted damage by alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse? Our generation was taught that one has to take responsibility for one’s actions and pay the price for mistakes and follies and not expect others to pay for it. Is that kind of morality or wisdom so old fashioned and useless that it needed throwing out? I don’t believe so.
Likewise, is gratuitous swearing, the use of abusive language so attractive and desirable that we had to throw away all rules of civility and linguistic refinement, in exchange of foul language and absolutely abominable ways of communication, both spoken and written? What is the attraction? The cheap thrill of trying to shock unsuspecting listeners or readers?
I do not look upon marriage as an institution, where either an institutional religion’s or the state’s approval, or blessing is vital for it to function. But I do regard marriage as a vital requirement for the nurturing, safety and well being of the progeny, where the interests of the children are paramount and override most other considerations. Of course it cannot function without personal responsibility of the consenting parties and a full understanding of the commitment and the consequences if the partnership breaks down.
Beyond that marriage is also a partnership - even in the absence of progeny - between consenting adults, for the mutual benefit and protection of the respective partners. It has functioned reasonably well for countless generations and I do not accept that individual rights to instant gratification make the institution obsolete. Yes, it does require commitment and a willingness to give and take. Yes, it requires a great deal of patience, perseverance, respect and acknowledgment of the other party’s rights, feelings and viewpoints. And to us, senior citizens – or old farts if you prefer – it is apparent that precisely those qualities of tolerance, understanding and the commitment that is lacking and creating all the problems and miseries in today’s modern society.
Of course I could rumble on and take every line from the above “list of deficiencies” and enlarge upon it, but I believe that the “list” speaks for itself. Experience also taught us - the senior citizens - that the more we say, the less we are listened to. Let those lines speak for themselves about some of the concerns we have.
There is nothing new about the concerns and despair of the older generations, looking at the behaviour of the younger generation. Since and long before the exclamation of Marcus Tullius Cicero of “O Tempora, O Mores!” (Oh, what times, oh what morals [or habits]; an expression of exasperation about the behaviour of Catilina) older generations almost always felt ill at ease about the behaviour, habits or morality of the younger generations. Probably not without good reason. What younger generations cannot understand, simply because they lack the experience of years, that the concerns of the elders comes from the experiences of their own youth and middle years. The modern trend of change for the sake of change results in the “throwing out the baby with the bath water” – so to speak – the casting away of well established and functionally correct rules, moral, ethical and behavioural codes, that proved beneficial to a civilised society for generations. Today’s magic keyword is “Individual Rights.” It tends to be interpreted – by en large – as a licence to do what ever turns an individual on, combined with complete disregard to the rights, interests and feelings of other people. It does not require a genius to see where this kind of attitude can lead.
Of course we are concerned. We are concerned, because we care. We care, not about ourselves primarily, - in the twilight years of our lives it hardly matters what the future holds for us – but we care about the future generations. We care about the future of our children, grandchildren and their descendants. We care, because we understand what life is, or what life is supposed to be about, because we know that without a civilised society, civilised behaviour, life in not worth living.
We learned all that the hard way. We would love to give that gift of understanding to our descendants, to the younger generation… if only they would show some willingness to listen.
The view from “over the hill” is not a pretty one. We see the warning signs of a storm, a disaster that could end civilisation. What concerns us that we can see that view at our doorstep. The view from over the hill is not the view of a far away land. We see the warning signs of a disaster on our streets, in our neighbourhood, in the litter, graffiti, vandalism, urban decay, in the breakdown of law and order, the ever-growing prison population, hooliganism, alcohol and drug abuse and many other equally unpleasant signs.
And we are not ashamed to cry out: “O Tempora, O Mores!”
Perhaps it is time for the younger generation to sit up and listen to the warning cry of the “Old Farts” before it’s too late.
© P. J. Oszmann (2004)