Insults do not denigrate elders

31 May 2019
Author   Jackie Wilson Asheeke
I am tired of hearing people admonishing others to stop insulting ‘elders.’  The Deputy Agriculture Minister and even the president and others, keep harping on this conservative mantra.
  Consider this:  One person’s insult is another person’s truth.  The bottom-line is that people must be allowed to speak their minds in a democracy – no one speaking within their rights under the constitution should ever be silenced.
Advocating that someone be silenced because others don’t like what they are saying is a slippery slope towards dictatorship and fascism.  I see this trend in other countries as well.   In those places, the media and the public are banned from speaking ill of a king or president and people are arrested for criticising the government or disagreeing with laws and cultural dictates. Namibia must never again move in that direction.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that people were silenced in the land of the brave for speaking in support of independence?
I may not like what people say, but I defend their right to say it!  (Even if it annoys me or hurts my feelings.) Ask yourselves this:  should anyone, simply by virtue of their age, be given a pass on everything they say and do? 
I have heard (and experienced) countless cases of dirty old men -elders- inappropriately touching young girls, sexually molesting them, or treating young men and women like chattel and indentured servants.  Should those victims remain silent because the perpetrators are elders?  How many older people utterly disrespect and abuse everyone around them?  Should this go unchecked just because those doing such wrong things are old?  Absolutely not! Injustice and illegalities must be challenged.  People who want respect, must act respectfully.
In primary school, I used to fight to defend my sister who was slightly handicapped; other kids teased her constantly.  I was not expelled for fighting, but sent to anger counselling.  In those sessions, I learned that while words can hurt, being smart and strong enough to ignore verbal maliciousness is braver than simply punching someone in the mouth to silence them.
That advice given to me so many years ago, I now give to ‘elders’ and their apologists, who are whining about being insulted.
Elders in Namibia feeling dissed’ by editorials or commentary need to grow a thicker skin.  Define yourself, don’t let others define you. 
Those with a long list of experiences who are still in leadership and are feeling offended by things said about them should know better than to ask that free speech to be curbed just to assuage their wounded egos and ruffled feathers.
Reality check:  The world in which our ‘elders’ were raised no longer exists.  Many from those older days cannot understand the minds of more youthful people today.  Elders (and everyone else!) now have to explain WHY they are saying something; they have to give advice that fits the modern facts available; they have to be held to the same moral and legal standards as anyone else – no free pass because of grey hair, canes and failing eyesight! 
Today, our kids are educated not just in reading, writing and maths, but also in discoveries, theories, possibilities and advancements that did not exist when ‘elders’ were in school.  The masses of the people are now exposed to travel, television, cell phones, and movies and of course, the internet.  Ideas are flowing from everywhere, to everyone and that is a good thing!  Just as we no longer listen to talking drums to deliver messages over distances, elders are no longer the sole source of wisdom. 
Here is the crux of the clash:  with freedom of thought comes freedom of speech.  You cannot ask youth to take on the massively hard work of building the future and then want them to be meek, mild, and muzzled sheep, bowing to elders (or anyone else!)  The fire we need in the next generation to love this country and do the difficult tasks ahead is the same fire that makes them passionate about issues and bold enough to speak their minds.  Silent, submissive, docile minions do not build nations, they are cannon fodder; achievement is for those who dare. 
All this said, those who want freedom of expression, must know there may be a price to pay for that.  Take note:  all that you say as your opinion will not necessarily be applauded and it may not always be accurate.  People speaking THEIR truth, must step back and know that just because they say something, doesn’t make it right.
Using the anonymity of social media to dish out negativity is the act of often malicious, frightened and small-minded people.  If you are brazen enough to say nasty things behind someone’s back, be badass enough to step up, sign your name, put your reputation behind your truth and make your points with facts.  
There is room in this society for compassion, mercy, tolerance, respect and patience.  Treating people as you would want to be treated is what must happen lest we kill each other.   Opening a door for someone who cannot easily do so for themselves, having queues for pensioners, giving your seat to someone who cannot physically stand up, listening to someone who has already gone through something you are going through, is social decency – it binds communities together and keeps the peace. 
Those who speak ill of people (elders or not), need to consider this point.
Please stop demanding that people to respect elders and begin demanding that people respect one another. 


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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