I’m sure I’m not alone in having noticed that RB 63 on Community Order, which we finish re-reading today, is interpreted differently according to one’s age group. If one is young and fervent but possibly a little insecure, one will home in on all the points at which Benedict directs the elders of the monastery to show love and kindness to the young. If one is old and fervent but possibly a little insecure, one will home in on all the points at which Benedict directs the young of the community to show respect and kindness to the old. The truth is, as Benedict’s constant reference to Romans 12.10 indicates, love and respect go hand in hand. The danger is that we may forget the mutuality at the heart of community life and sheer weight of numbers may distort how we relate to one another.
That would be a purely monastic concern were it not that in the West we face a major shift in demographics. The old will soon outnumber the young. How we cope with that will reflect what we are as individuals as well as what we are as a society. Government policy will always be affected by what is perceived to be popular with voters. At the moment, elder abuse is a hot topic, and we are rightly shamed by revelations about the ‘care’ meted out in some institutions. But more and more legislation is rarely the answer to anything. Perhaps we should ask questions a little nearer home. How do we see the old/young/people different from ourselves? If we want a society that is truly respectful and caring, there is only one place to start: with ourselves and our own attitudes.