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RESPECT FOR SENIORS IS A WELL-EARNED RIGHT

A few weeks ago, while walking a path on Hopkins Road with other senior citizens, a car filled with young people drove by. They shouted insulting epithets and, for no apparent reason, "flipped us the bird."

The other day, as I looked for a birthday card for a senior friend, I became appalled at what some might think passes for humor.

I'm also getting tired of seeing the elderly portrayed in the media as anachronistic. Gee, isn't it great that the smart daughter is around to apprise the dotty, old father of the benefits of drinking clear Benefiber, or taking Viagra or a myriad of other drugs?

And yes, I'm the codger who observes the speed limits, uses my turn signals and stops as the light turns red. Pardon an old habit, respect for the law. So stop tailgating and giving me those nasty stares.

As a retiree, entering my senior years, I wonder if I'm becoming too sensitive to ageism in our culture, or is the culture too insensitive to the aged? Should I take issue when society characterizes the elderly as incompetent, incapable, incontinent, unattractive, sexually inadequate, confused, cranky and in ill health?

Several weeks ago, The Buffalo News printed a commentary that postulated civilization never moved significantly forward and individuals benefited from the blessings of longevity. Thus, the elders were able to pass on valuable insights, experiences and wisdom to the next generation. That's how mankind progresses.

Why then this gerontophobia? What foments the prejudice and stereotypes against the elderly? Some have suggested that the old are viewed as a burden to society. We have served our purpose and should exit the scene. Others have stated that the fear of growing old motivates hostility toward senior members of our society. Or could it be outright mendacity by some who view the old as vulnerable targets and defenseless victims?

Demographics assure us that our nation is growing older. The senior population, 65 and older, is predicted to expand to almost 60 million by 2050. The baby boom generation will ensure the graying of America. One might predict increasing friction between the generations if this matter is left to ferment.

Buffalo is known as the City of Good Neighbors. Why can't we take a progressive approach to the reduction of intergenerational tension and demonstrate to the nation the benefits of promoting a tolerant understanding of all the members of the community? This might do more to advance the cultural and economic welfare of our community than any other proposals that I have heard.

As for our younger generations, remember -- what goes around, comes around. Celebrate your youth but reject the prejudice and abuse of the elderly. This can only ensure your security and enjoyment as you grow older. You might even learn a thing or two and make your life's journey easier and more meaningful.

And seniors, stand up with pride for your place in our society. Exercise your political muscle. Your time has not passed. Don't accept being marginalized, abused or reduced to a non-person.

STEPHEN J. MUSCARELLA is president of the Buffalo Retirees Chapter of the Public Employees Federation.