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Filial Piety

Excerpt from Daily Cures, Wisdom for Healthy Aging by Connie Mason Michaelis



Are you familiar with the term filial (fi-lē-əl) piety? Years ago, I was at the Landon Center on Aging at the University of Kansas and 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 criterion 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 would care for their older parents, and the virtue is called filial piety. Filial means family, and piety is worship or devotion. She explained that the Chinese character for filial piety shows the lower figure is a child with a cradle above holding the symbol for the parent.


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, and playing tennis as targets for things like anti-aging cosmetics, 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, and we should not pretend that their needs are not real. I determined then that I would dedicate myself to the virtues of filial piety.

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