Are you familiar with the term filial (fi-lē-əl) piety? Years ago, I was at the 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. There were 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 is a well-accepted virtue that children always honor and respect their parents, especially the older they get. The virtue is filial piety. ‘Filial’ means family and ‘piety’ entails 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 and blood pressure medications. 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 practice the honor and respect our Elders deserve!