A love that rises above the law

“Strictly speaking, one cannot legislate love,” as the African American author

and performer Maya Angelou once said, “but what one can do is legislate

fairness and justice. If legislation does not prohibit our living side by side,

sooner or later your child will fall on the pavement and I’ll be the one to

pick her up.

“Or one of my children will not be able to get into the house and you’ll

have to say, ‘Stop here until your mum comes here’.” Legislation affords us the

chance to see if we might love each other.”

When Brian Lanker in his book I Dream A World (first published

in 1989) quoted Ms Angelou, among 75 black women whose aspirations,

achievements and impact on the world he would record for posterity, the

peers of this remarkable woman born in the 1920s could not be otherwise

than inspired in the struggle towards equality and just treatment against the

prejudice they faced in a racist United States. Much of the world has since

changed its attitude towards Blacks and other “minorities” –– we

would believe.

The population of the elderly, slowing moving from a minority, quite

shockingly has been having its own challenges around the world. There has

been a bad case of growing ill-treatment of the aged. And legislation, as Ms

Angelou observed back in the last century, broaches that opportunity to see

if the quite senior elderly and the very young can really love each other, and if

the old can be brought back into the caring bosom of society. China is a prime

example of the effort.

After a spate of reports about grandparents and great-grandparents being

neglected, simply maltreated by their former wards, or given to the dogs

and other lowly beasts, China recently amended its Law Of Protection 

Of Rights And Interests Of The Aged to make a criminal offence,

punishable by imprisonment, for the children or other seed to treat

inhumanely their old.

The abominable story is told of a centenarian in China’s eastern province of

Jiangsu whose son –– a farmer had kept his mother, of this very elite age club,

resident in a pigsty, with a 440-pound grunting sow for company. The vile and

contemptible man insisted his mum was happy and comfortable with Arnold.

Respect for the elderly is still to some degree conventional in Chinese

society, but the traditional value has come under strain, observers say, by

China’s fashionable “rush to Western modernity”. With a more or less broken

traditional family support system, suffering and indignity are a fallout for the

ageing Chinese, who were once revered unconditionally.

And so China’s amended law on the aged seeks to bring back to the elderly

some poise and status, even if it means whipping their children into submission

figuratively, or throwing them behind bars literally. And children cannot escape

their new legislated responsibility by giving up any inheritance rights. By law,

they must take care of their parents; and if the can’t physically, they must pay a

monthly allowance to their parents to ensure they are properly taken care of.

Otherwise, a disobedient child is a wanted man –– or woman. And, of

course, the new legislation allows for the elderly to sue their own seed ––

which a 77-year-old woman from the Jiangsu city of Wuxi did her daughter for

neglect. The outcome of the case was that her daughter must visit her at least

twice a month and provide financial support. Regrettably, the court did not

specify moral support.

But this has not come without its controversy. Some observers say it puts

too much pressure on those sons and daughters who move away from home

for work, study, marriage or other means. That the law pits the old norms and

values of family and society against the complexities of modern life, and begs

the question: how can you legislate love?

We may fall back of Maya Angelou’s theory that “legislation affords us the

chance to see if we might love each other”, even as we are challenged in the

familial circumstance of that possible emotional and generational tug of war.

We have not reached that stage of disorder with our senior citizens in

Barbados. God forbid we ever should! There seems to be an adequate number

of us and a sufficient and tenacious will to vent our feelings at the boors and

culprits who would make the lives of our elderly a misery. We will not allow

the detestable and swinish among us to plunge their twilight years into

any darkness.

An ageing society that we are, considerateness, respect and care for our

elderly must be our watchwords –– in our homes and schools, spreading

through our business places, engulfing our communities. It cannot be left to the

lawmakers, for strictly speaking, as Ms Angelou admits, we cannot legislate love.

It takes a village to raise a child, we have claimed. And it takes the very

village to secure that child’s aging parent.

Caring for and sharing with our elderly must be our voluntary responsibility,

for these seniors who have walked before us have given us much, making

possible the life we now so much enjoy. We ought not to need the law to

remind us.

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