Living a long life and a happy old age remains the objective and hope for the great majority of people. As the hopes for a longer life increase, so also does the hope for an active life. More and more elderly people remain healthy and are independent. Old age is not synonymous with dependency. However, many of our contemporaries refuse to accept this period of human life and they perceive it as a loss of all that that made them happy them during their active life. The lack of friendship, solidarity between the generations, distance from the relations also have their origin in the erroneous image, full of prejudices and stereotypes, which the public has of old age. The conditions of many elderly who are alone and abandoned say something about the utilitarian orientation of our society. The elderly person represents a great contemporary paradox: the gift of a longer life is also held by many to be useless and cumbersome. Just on this topic, on the occasion of the International Year of the Elderly, the Vatican, through the Papal Council of the lay people, has produced an interesting document that, emphasising the dignity of the elderly, helps the contemporary man and woman to think about the mission of the elderly in the Church and in the world.
In effect our society has lost the sense of old age. The last discussion that gave meaning to old age was that of the old sage who had truth in a traditional society in which information and communication was slow, but today the knowledge and abilities of the elderly does cannot compete with rapid technological change. This is also occurring in other areas of the planet where ancient traditions and archaic social structures resisted. Let us think about the African Continent and the crisis of the elderly there, where up to now the elderly had benefited from the attention and protection proximity of their next-of-kin, relatives, clan, and local community. Today in these areas it also becomes more difficult to preserve such relations at a time when the number of elderly it growing and, at the same time, because of the emigration and of the urbanisation, the traditional structures such as the extended family, have undergone radical changes.
Therefore, for who those who are growing older, comes an age in which they are able to do less, in which his or her ways of thinking or doing are out-dated, an age in which fragility of not being able to keep up with a competitive world emerges.
The old questions of many adults and young people emerge in this critical social context: how to react to old age, how to avoid becoming citizens of the elderly “continent”, how not to lose consideration and power among the healthy, the young and the strong? It is better to stay younger as long as possible, to defend one’s own youthfulness.
Being old is a value negative. It is thus necessary to help the contemporary man, the old person of today and tomorrow, to rediscover the meaning of life beyond their productive consumerist life. The elderly with their fragility, their weakness are an forceful question about the meaning of life that goes far beyond that attributed by the market and competitiveness. Meeting the elderly means discovering in them a great desire to live. To defeat the current negative representation of old age is first of all a cultural and educational undertaking that must involve all generations. There is a responsibility towards the elderly of today that are helped to accept their age appreciating it’s resources and defeating their withdrawal from society, the painful feelings of uselessness, the desperation and the anger towards new generations. There is also a responsibility towards the future generations: that of preparing a more favourable environment for the condition of old age. The impoverishment of relations affects all of society, but in more obvious ways the elderly. The well-being, the social justice, the fairness, the centrality of the human person, his dignity, the fraternal sharing must be pursued in order to prevent the culture of indifference, the exasperated individualism, the competitiveness and the utilitarianism that threaten all areas of humanity.