Just imagine a culture where age created little attention, specifically when addressing matters of socialization. In America where youth is idolized and the middle-aged fellow is all but disregarded, such a thought would most certainly fall on deaf ears. But what if everyone was seen as an equal and not judged on number of accrued years? What if one was judged purely on what they brought to the conversation, situation or even if valued for their advanced wisdom? Continuing, it remains valuable to envision a society that meets eye to eye with equal respect when the only thread of differentiation is built on merit.
Years ago I viewed a television interview conducted by Barbara Walters. The piece was concerning age and Jane Fonda was her counterpart. Fonda remarked that she had begun to feel invisible and had fallen to depression because of it. She asked Walters if she had evidence of such and Walters agreed. The two ladies had a meeting of the minds that day before the nation and I was on hand to see it happen. My sympathies ran deep, although I could not personally identify with what they were saying. Nor could I grasp the seriousness of the words they were sharing. For either Fonda or Walters to feel as though they were not seen or heard spelled impossible. Their voices alone would ring familiar in just about anyone’s mind, as they have both become American icons.
Toddlers that are entered in beauty contests come to mind. Again, the idea of the younger the better is insistent and haunts our American society. These babes are just mature enough to walk, yet innocent enough not to understand what the hoop-la is all about. Nonetheless, that rapidly changes with a year or two and by the time the children have graduated to pre-school level, they are revered for their charm and beauty alone, ignoring whatever attributes they may eventually possess. By the time the child is considered an adolescent they are competing for the big bucks, bound for a life of recognition spawned from looks alone. It remains clear that the option for reconstructive facial surgery is a certain remedy for the future and of course, the experience of exaggerated fears of the non-stoppable, ever present enemy: an onslaught of advancing years.
It’s refreshing to realize that not all cultures share our disdain or disgust for the aged. Here in Africa advanced years are usually respected, if at all noticed. In Uganda an older woman is sometimes referred to as “Mommy,” but with that comes respect and a position of honor. Too, it is common to see couples with wide gaps between their ages, as they walk hand in hand along their way. Pop into a pub or night club and witness folks representing all age groups, sitting about cavorting or dancing, having a joyous time collectively.
There are actually American clubs and hot nightspots where anyone past 30 years is not allowed. It has even been noted that if you do manage to slip by and gain entrance, you can be called out and accused of intoxication and asked to leave the premises. This is not social freedom and the idea of such is leaning toward a breech in equal rights. After all, what’s next? Perhaps eventually anyone past 50 won’t be allowed to vote.
Such tenets of social construction are only a part of the freedom openly expressed here in Uganda. People in ghettos and up country alike engage in activities that have existed for centuries. Police do not interfere with tribal practices, as well as personal freedoms that do not interfere with others. Mzungus, or whites, are both amazed and enraptured by these truths. Until this day I have never met a white that didn’t cleave to such sovereignty and express a fond desire to transplant these ideas to their own backyard.