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Filial Piety

Are you familiar with the term filial (fi-lē-əl) piety? Years ago I was at the Dole Institute on Aging at the University of Kansas and coincidently ended up observing a Chinese woman presenting her doctoral thesis to an audience of professors. She explained that her research compared over 5,000 print and film advertisements to see differences in the depiction of seniors. She named ten criteria that she looked for in the portrayal of older men and women: vitality, health, activity etc. The last criteria mentioned was filial piety. Being an outside observer I wasn’t about to ask what it meant. I was delighted when one of the professors asked for clarification. She explained that in the Chinese culture there was a well-accepted virtue that children will take care of their older parents and the virtue is filial piety. Filial means family and piety is worship or devotion.

When asked for an example she pulled out a magazine showing an old man in a wheelchair with his beaming son standing next to him. The son is admonishing others to buy this superior brand of wheelchair. The presenter said there were very few representations of older Americans in a state of weakness or need. American ads showed seniors dancing, swimming, playing tennis as targets for things like cholesterol medications and Viagra. No one appears old except for a little grey hair; otherwise they could be young adults. At that moment I knew that filial piety was a term worth embracing and promoting! Our Elders are old for sure but not to be marginalized and forgotten. Our culture suffers from ageism and we are diminished because of it. Our western focus on youth has serious limitations. Growing old is a blessing, not given to all. Let’s embrace filial piety and provide the support our Elders deserve with dignity, respect and honesty.

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