That Darn Old Lady…

18 09 2008

I honked at a grandma yesterday. Actually, twice. I honked at her because she was blocking my turning lane when she wanted to go straight. I realized that she was a grandma after I had honked. Funny thing is, after I drove away from that scenario, I felt guilty. In my head I was thinking, ‘I hope she wasn’t startled’ and ‘I hope she drives home ok.’ But then a split second later, I doubted the validity of my guilt and started asking myself questions.
   ‘Why do I have to feel guilty for honking at a person just because they’re old?’
   ‘Sure their motor skills maybe be slower or less attuned than when they were younger, but does that excuse them for bad driving?’

My mind continued to explore the possible justifications of my hand having pressed the horn. In the midst of such mental exploration, at the same time, I suppressed the little bit of a positive conscience telling me that it was a bad move, that it was my fault, and that I should be feeling guilty. Eventually, my mind fixated on the best reason to ignore my sense of guilt and affirm the validity of the course of action: we excuse people’s wrongs and faults based on the circumstance we find them in while such exoneration is further aided by the virtue of sympathy and preservation of our image. Now before everyone thinks I’m a jerk for saying that it’s ok to honk at old people, let me explain:

Age is a circumstance. A situation. We can’t control it. We all get old. If you want to be morbid, we all die. Let’s say that a person intentionally used the turning lane to cut into a traffic jam. Let’s say that a person happened to also be an elderly person. This doesn’t mean that they are automatically excused for the selfish act of cutting in line just because they are old. If they didn’t know any better, if they were ignorant of modern etiquette, if they were genuinely oblivious and unawares, then yes, more likely excusable. But if they were ill intended, then no. The problem is that we cannot know the intent. All we see in that situation is that the other person is old and our sympathies toward them, whether it’s because we think he/she is a cute old person or we assume that older people are not as good drivers due to slow reaction times, muscle deterioration, or whatever reason you hold. So it would be ok to excuse people based upon this uncontrollable circumstance of age and senescence. On the other hand, it is not ok to blame them for such circumstance and it was definitely my fault for honking at that lady because she was old. It was right for me to feel guilty.

But we also do this in circumstances where we shouldn’t. Let’s say, for example, you come across an old person who is making racist comments about another person (possibly even someone close to us, e.g. mother, grandmother). We sometimes attribute their racism to their age. Then we do them a further disservice and conclude that there is no point in changing their thought and we think, “oh that cute racist grandma” (false sympathy) and “I don’t want to bother myself to try to let her know that it’s wrong to say such things” (saving face). You see, we are doing them a disservice because in essence, we are saying that their life is over, there is not more hope for change in their lives, and morbidly put, all they should look forward to is death itself. No. This can’t be the way we see the elderly. When we lose hope that is when we are functionally, if not physically, dead.

I would say, “we must never lose hope,” but hope never stands alone, it is always placed in an object, in something. And hope lasts as long as that object lasts. So instead of encouraging people to never lose hope, we must teach them to place their hopes in things that will never be lost. But in this world of entropy what exists that cannot be lost?

On a more practical level, apart from the difficulty of discerning another’s intent, we are reducers by nature and that leads us to quicker less nuanced judgement. It is not that judgement is bad, it is usually that we have poor grounds for it. I reduced that old lady who was driving to one aspect of her life, age (Let alone an aspect she couldn’t maneuver!). She probably had many things going on in her life. Maybe she was in a hurry to get to an important event. Maybe, on a comical level, she just had to go to the bathroom really urgently. Whatever her multidynamic situation was, in my mind, I cut out the rest and reduced her manner of driving to her age. My judgement was on poor grounds as is usually the case for most of everyones judgement. It is in expanding our view of others as multidimensional complex creatures that we lean towards not only fairer assesment and judgement, but seeing the hope possible in their lives. It will provide a platform for us to see others as we do ourselves, complex creatures, with many reasons for our actions, many faults and many guilts, but also retainers of hope that can be placed in something which can help us standing until the end of our time here on earth.




3 responses

18 09 2008

i found your entry really funny. i don’t know if you meant it to be funny, but it was funny.

19 09 2008

You felt bad for honking because you have it ingrained in your head to respect your elders — filial piety.

23 07 2009
alice oh

wow, you wrote this a year ago but i just came across it now. i like i like, it was very thoughtful.

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