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Pushing back against ageism

Saturday, 16 September 2017  | Paul Arnott

In May this year I was the locum at the Anglican Church in Assisi, Italy. It was a special time in many ways, not least because it was an opportunity to learn more about St Francis. In the early 13th century, Francis was the leader of a group of other young men who regularly used to drink and carouse into the early hours of the morning. However, a number of things happened that brought him to a living faith in Christ, one of them being an encounter with a leper.

In Francis's day lepers were complete outcasts who were both loathed and feared. One day, while riding a horse in the country, he was confronted by a leper on the road. Ordinarily he would have ridden on in disgust as quickly as possible. However, this day he stopped his horse, dismounted, and hugged and kissed the leper. As he’d looked at the leper he had seen the face of Christ. He had recognised that, as diseased and loathsome as this man appeared to be, he was in fact a precious human being made in God's image.

One of the challenges we face in today's increasingly judgmental world is to see people as individuals who have been made in God's image and who are therefore of great value and worth. As we've interviewed Australian Christians in their Fourth-Quarter around the nation, we've heard story after story of ageism. Older people are often written off as being irrelevant, frail and of little worth to society. 

This ties in with the current debate around euthanasia. From where I sit, the greatest unintended consequence of the proposed legislation in NSW and Victoria is that of elder abuse. There is more pressure on the finances of ordinary Australians than ever, especially the cost of housing. I can envisage a scenario whereby a parent could easily feel, or be made to feel, that ending their life would enable their child or children to buy an apartment or house. The pressure may not even come from their child, but simply from the realisation that it would be possible for them to help in this way.

We are being assured that this won’t happen under the proposed legislation. However, the pressure is already there on older people. Once we have taken the step to say in law that there are occasions when a human life is of no worth - which is what these proposed laws would do - we have stepped over the precipice. I recognise that many people reject the ‘Slippery Slope’ argument. However, my belief is that, as wages slip further and further behind and automation displaces more and more jobs around Australia, elder abuse will become more and more prevalent. Christianity asserts that our origins as humans lie in God our creator. This means we are all God's creatures and of immense worth to him, no matter how old or young we are, no matter how well or frail we are.

Modern medicine is enabling people to live longer and healthier lives than ever before. The Fourth-Quarter could be among the most fulfilling and enjoyable periods of life. Dr Don Edgar of the Institute of Family Studies has suggested that 'old age promises to be a rich resource for society, but only if accompanied by a shift in attitude away from the negative images that consign elders to the scrapheap’. He predicts a significant change in attitude towards older Australians. Even if his prediction doesn't fully eventuate, our attitude towards growing older is crucial. We can see our Fourth-Quarter as a time of frailty and increasing decrepitude. Or we can choose to see becoming older as a time in our lives to enrich others by serving people in a way we didn't have time for when in paid work. We can see our Fourth-Quarter as an opportunity to pass on life's hard-earned wisdom to younger generations and to give back. The choice is ours – visit Q4 Connection for more information.

Paul Arnott is the Executive Director of Q4Connection for Christian Ministry Advancement.


Susie Gentle
September 19, 2017, 1:21PM
I help take care of a lady, aged 93. Tiny in stature, alert as anything, she watches TV 📺 NEWS, reads the paper, has coffee with people a third her age, mixes with all sorts of people and does Zumba classes once a week at the gym - and occasional tap classes! She's great! She also cooks, tends plants, makes mini-quiches for parties, and, until recently, played golf ⛳

What I do for her is only the things she finds difficult: changing the sheets, taking lids off bottles, vacuuming and that sort of thing. 

She also loves jazz 🎺 - and going to church ⛪!!!

It's fantastic that she embraces life and she once said to me: 'I'm not old!!!'.

Her life is full of meaning at 93, partly thanks to a very loving family who mean so much to her.

It's an inspiration to see a lady of 93 feeling young and smiling through any pain she occasionally feels BSSQA.

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