Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning, Inc., Belmont, CA. 2001.Christina Sommers & Fred Sommers (Vice & Virtue)

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O n Gmwing Old Gracefully

O n Growing Old Gracefully

Lin Ytrtnng

Lin Y~~ltang (2895-1976) was a novelist and a philosa- pher. He is the author of a number of books, including The Importtiace of Liviny (1937) and T h e I#isdom of China find Intfin (1 95 5).

Lin Yutang describes the Chincsc famtly system's treat- ment of old people and contrasts it with Western norms and attitudes. He notes that we need strong cultural norms to assure respect for parents, grandpfparer~ts, and older people in general. "A natural man loves his clddrcn, but a cultur~d man loves his parents." Chinese deference and respect for age contnst sharply with Western attl- tudes, where we view growing old as almost disgracefd and expect old pcoplc not to "interfere" in the Fmill' home life

The Chinew family system, as conceive it, is largely an arrange nlent of particular provision for the young and thc old, for sinc childhood and youth and old age occupy half our life, it is lrnportar that the young and the old live a satisfactory Iit'e. It i s tn~e chat th yaung are more helpless and can take less care aF themselves, but 0 thc other hand, they can get along better without material cnmfor

than the old people. A child is oficn scarcely aware of ttiaterial hard- ship?, with the result that a poor child i s often as happy as, i fnut hap-

' pier than, a rich c ldd. H e may 30 barefooted, but that is a comtbrt, rather than a hardship to him, whcreas going barefooted is often an intolerable hardship for old people. Tlis comes from the child's

, greater vitality, the bounce ofyoutl-t. He may have his temporary sor- : rows, but: how easily he Forgcts them. He has no idea af money and

no millionaire compl as the old man has, At the worst, he collects f ~ n t y cigar coupons F ~ I , hying a pop-gun, whereas the dowager col- I lects Liberty Bands. Rctween the f ~ ~ n of these two hnds of collection

there is no comparison. The reason is the child is not yet incimidatcd ; hy life as all grown-ups are. His personal habits are as yet unformed, '

and he is not a slave to a particular brand af coffee, and he takes '

whatever comes along. He has very little racial prejudice and abso- , lutely no religious prejudice. His thoughts and ideas have not fallen

into certain ruts. Therefore, strange as it may seem, old people are even more dependent than the young because their fears are more definite and their desires are more delimited.

Something of [his tenderness toward old age existed already in the primevil1 consciousness of the Chinese people, a feeling that I can

' compare only to the Western chlvalty and feeling of tenderness

' toward women. If the early Chinese people had any chvdry, it was manifested not toward women and chrldren, but toward the old peo- ple. That feeling of chivalry found clear expression in Mencius in *ome such saying as, "Tlze people with grey hair should not be seen :arryitlg burdens on the street," which was expressed as the final ;oaI of a good government. Mencius also described the tbur classes 3f the world's most helplea people as: "The widows, widowers, or-

1 phans, and old people without children." Of these four classes, the first two were to be taken care of by a politicd economy that should bc so arranged that there wouIc1 be tio ur~married men and women. What: was ta be done about the orphan? Mencius did not say, SO far as we know, althougl~ orphanages have always existed throughout the ages, as well as pensions for old people. Every one realizes, however, that orpkanagcs and old age pensionr are poor substitutes for the home. 'The feeling is that the home alone can provide anythng re-

, sembling a satis&ctory arrangcment for the old and the young. But for i the young, it is tu be taken for gcantecl that not much need be said, I sincc there is natural parcntal aFfection. "Water flows downwards and

not upwards," the Chinese ahayr Fay, and therefore the Bection for i



friends are motivated by lovc rather than by the prospect of repay- ment. Hence, tak of "owit~g" is singularly nut of placc in Friendshp

For example, suppose Alfred takes Bcatricc out for an expensive dinner and a movie. Beatrice incurs no obligation to "repay" hm with a goodnight luss or a retlirn engagement. If Alfred complains that she "'owes" hiin something, he is operating under the assump- tion that she should repay a favor, but on the contrary his was a gn- emus gesture done in the hopes of developing a frienAhip. We hope h a t he would not want her repayment in the form of scx or attcn- tion if this was done to discharge a debt rather than from friendship. Since, if Alfred is prone to reasontng in this way, Beatrice may well decline the invitation or request to pay for her own dinner, his at- tltude of expecting a "return" on his "investment" could hinder the development of a friendship. Beatrice should return the gesture only I f she is motivated by Friendship.

Another camman misuse of the "awing" idiom occurs when the Smiths have hned at the Joneses' four times, but the Joneses at the Smiths' only once. People often say, "We owe them three dinners." T b line of thinking may be appropriate between business acquain- tances, but not between friends. Pcfter all, the Joneses invited the Sxnith~ not in wrcler to feed them or to be fed in turn, but because of the friendly contact presumably enjoyed by all on such occasions. If the Smiths do not feel friendship toward the Joneses, they can decline future invitations and not invite theJoneses; they owe them nothing. Of course, between friends of equal resources and needs, roughly equal sacrifices (though not necessarily roughly equal dinners) will typically occur, If the s a ~ r ~ c e s are highly out of proportion to the resources, the relationship is closer to servility than to friendship.'

Another difference between favors and friendship is that after a friendship ends, the duties offriendship end. The party that has sac- rificed less owes the other nothing, For instance, suppose Elmer do- nated a pint of blood that hrs wife Doris needed during an operation. Years after their divorce, Elmer is in an accident and needs one pint ofblood. His new wife, Cora, is also of the same blood type. It seems that Doris not only does not "owe" Elmer blood, but that she should

I C) Thomas E. Will. Jt , "Servility and Self-respect," Mt~nisl 57 (1 973). Thus, dt~t- ine ch~ldhaod, most of the sacrifices w ~ l l come from the parents, since they have rnkt of theresaurccs and the child. ha$ most c~f the nccds. w h e n chdtlren are grown, the situation is usually revcmurl.

What D o Grown CIdldren Owe Their Parenu?

actually refrain from coming forward if Cora has volunteered to do- nate. 'To insist on donating not only interferes with the newlyweds' friendrh ip, but it beli ttIes Doris and Elmer's former relationship by suggeqting that Elmer gave blood in hopes offavors returned instead of simply out of love for Doris. It is one of the heart-rending fea- nlrcs of divorce that it attends to quantity in a relationship previousXy characterized by mutuality. If Cora could not donate, Doris's obli- gation is the same as that for any former spouse in need of blood; it is not increased by the fact that Elmer similarly aided her. It is affected by the degree to which they are still friends, which in turn may (or may not) lave been influenced by Elmer's donation.

In short, ttnlike the debts created by favors, the duties of friend- ship do not require equal quantities of sacrifice. Performing equal sacrifices does not cancel the duties of friendship, as it does the debts

w $ ~ v o r s . Unrequested sacrifices do not themselves create debts, but friends have duties regardless of whether they requested or initiated the friendship. Those who perform favors may be motivated by rnu- tual gain, whereas friends should be mocivatcd by affection. These characteristics of the friendship relation are distorted by talk of "owmg. "

3. Parents and Clddren

The relationship between children and their parents should be one of friendship characterized by mutuality rather than one of recip- mcal favors. The quantity of parental sacrifice is not relevant in de- termining what duties the grown child has. The medical assistance grown children ought to offer their ill mothers in old age depends upon the mothers' need, not upon whether they endured a difficult pregnancy, for example. Nor do one's duties to one's parents cease once an equal quantity of sacrifice- has been performed, a? the phrase "dischargmg a debt" may lead us to think.

Rather, what children ought to do for their parents (and parents for children) depends upon ( 2 ) their respective needs, abhties, and re- sources and (2) the extent to which there is an ongoing friendship be- tween thein. Thus, regardless of the quantity of childhood sacrifices, an able, wealthy child has an obligation ta help his needy parents more than does a needy child. To dustrate, suppose sisters Cecile andDana are equally Ioved by their parents, even thotigh Cecile was an easy


child to care for, seldom ill, wMe Dana was often sick and caused some trouble as a juvenile delinquent. As adults, Dana is a stn1gg1:llng artist living far away, while Cecile 1s a weal thy lawyer living nearby. When the parents need visits and fmncial aid, Cecile has an obliga- tion to bear a higher proportion of these burdens than her sister. This rm~dts from her abilities, rather than Fronl the quantities of sacrifice made by the paten& earlier.

Sacrifices have an important causal role in creating an ongoing friendship, which may lead us to assume incorrectly that it: is the sac- rifices that arc the source ofobligation. That the source is the friend- ship instead can be seen by examining c~qes In which the sacrifices occtrrred but the friendship, far some reason, did not develop or persist. For example, if a woman gives up her newborn child for adoption, and if no feelings of love ever develop on either side, it seems that the grown child does not have an obligeion to "repay" her tbr her sacrifices in pregnancy. For that matter, if the adopted child has an unimpaired love relationship with the adoptive parents, he at she has the same obligations to help them as a natural child would have.

The filial obligations of grown children are a result of friendship, rather than owed for services rendered. Sr~ppose &at Vance married Lala despite his parents' strong wish that he marry within their reli- @on, and that as a result, the parents refuse to speak to him again. A5 the years pass, the parents are u n m e of Vance's problems, his ac- camplishments, t l ~ t birth of his children. The Jwe that once existed between them, let us suppose, has been completely destroyed by this event and thirty years of desuetude. At this point, it seems, Vance is under no obligation to pay his parentshmtdical bills in their old age, beyond his general duty to help those in need. An additional, filial obligation would only arise from whatever love he may still feel for therr~. It would be irrelevant for his parents to argue, "But look how much we sacrificed for you when yon were young," fbr that sacrifice was not a favor but occurred as part of a friendship which existed at the time but is now, we have supposed, defi~nct. A more appropriate message would be, "We still love you, and we would like to rcncw our friendship."

I hope this helps to set the question of what children o~ight: to do for their parents in a new light. The parental argument, "You ought ta do x because we did y For you," should be replaced by! "We love

What Du Crown Children'Owe Their Parents?

you and p u will be happier if you do" or "We believe you love us, and anyone who loved us w o ~ ~ l d cio x." If the parents' sacri E~ce had been a favor, the child's reply, "I never asked you to do y for me," wottld have becn relevant; to the revised parental remarks, this rcply is clearly irrelevant. Thc child can ci~her do x or dispute one of the parcnts' claims: by sl~owing that a love relationship does not exist, or that love for someone does not motivate doing x, or that he or ~ h t will not be happier doing x .

Seen in [his light, parental reqtlcsts For children to write home, visit, and offer them a reasonable amount of emotional 2nd financial support in life's crises are weU founded, so long as a friendship still exists. Love for others does call for caring about and caring for them. Some other parental requests, such as for more sweeping changes in the child's lifestyle or life goals, can be seen to be ins~~pportable, once & shiR the justification from debts wed to love. The terminology uffavors suggests the reasoning, "Since we paid for your college edu- cation, you m e it to us to make a career of engineering, rather than becoming a rock musician." This tends to alienate affection even fur- ther, since the tuition payrnerlts are depicted as investments For a re- turn rather than done from love, ar though the child's life goals could be "bought." Basing the argument on love leads to different reason- ing patterns, The suppressed premise, "If A loves B, then A follows B's wishes as to A's lifelong career" is simply false. Love does not even dictate that the child adopt the parents' values as to the desis- ability of alternative Me goals. So the parents' strongest available ar- gument here is, "We love you, we are deeply concerned about your happiness, and in the long run you will be happier as an engineer."' This makes it clear that an empirical claim is really the subject of the debate.

The function of these examples is to draw out our cansidered judgments as to the proper relation between parents and their grown chiklren, and to sllow bow poorly they f t the model of favors. What b relevant is the ongoing friendship that cxisa between parents and clzildren, Although that relationship developed partly as a result of parentalsacrifices for the child, the duties that grown children have to their parents result from the friendship rather than from the sacrifices. The idiom ocowing favors to one's parents can actually be destructive if it undermine? the roIe of mutuality and lead? us to think in terms of quantitative xcciprocal favors.

I MORALITY AND THE FAMLY Tr:~ditianal Jewish Fanlily Vdues


1. How does English distinguish between duties created by debts and duties crcxted by friendship?

2. Do you agree with English that filial obligation is iiat ewer for services rendered, but instead results from friendship? Ham would Lin Yutang react to this view?

3. In some states, law requires children of poor elderly people to contribute to their support. Do you think English would a r s e for or against this? Do you sttpport legislation of'this kind?

4. Can we criticize English for advdcating a "minimalist ethic" ac- cording to which no duties of self-sacrifice or altruism apply outside one's small circle of friends-all people, even family members, are moral strangers udess one voluntarily "contracts" an obligation?

5. How might English account for the m o d duty many people feel to take care of not only their own elderly parents, but needy elderly people in general?

Traditional Jewish Family Values

Jewish fady. The traditional family is much morc rig- orously organized, its members' roles are strictly defined, and, conscqtlently, the family itself is more important a% an institution. This results in gea te r intimacy and a strong sense ofmutual obLgation, for example, to the cl- derly who are esteemed as authoritative. Members of the traditional family practice a $reat deal ofrestra~he and for- bearance, emphasizing duty, rather than righm. Fimlly, the family sees itself as part of a more general comrnuluv of Jewish families that is, in turn, parr oFa continuous tradition and history. The tradieiorul family is religious and conlmitted co carrying on a Jewish tradition. This, says Lamm, gives it further cohesiveness.

Lamm argues for the importance of the "benevolenr

* b authority" thatpnrenh exercise, an authoricy all the more effective because the higher authority ofGod qualifies it. According to Lamm, a f a d y that lacks a central author-

,Il ity cannot be cohesive. The children ofsuch families tend to be confused and disoriented. Lamm warns that we are lasing our sense of commitment to tradition in a wodd without faith and cannot replace it simply by recogniz- ing how badly we need it.

Rabbi Norman Larnnr (b. 19271, president of Yabm University, is the autl~or of T h e Good S o ~ i ~ t y (1974), A Hedfe of Roses: Jewi~h fm[?kts i ~ f o M d y r i f l p (1 977), and Torah Urnaddola: The Encounter of Rclkiotlr Learning fld Wovldly K~owledle in J w i i h Trddi t io~ I 990).

Lamm preqenb an idealized model of the traditionalJm- ish family and contrats it with the average con temporary

TTihDrrrONAL pwrsa PhMrLV VALV65 F r o ~ ~ ~ J t u i ~ / t G ~ H ~ L ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ s I ~ c I I – ~ I I < I H ~ ~ . Bditcd by Norman L'- zcr, t3 1'173 by Thc Aonnl ofJewish Edttcarton or Grenrcr New York i<tl>rincerl by F'"" ?inn of 'The Uo.~rd nf Jewisl~ Educrt~on of C;rcnrcr Ncw York.

, . . I a m going to set up a contrast between two arbitrarily de- , signed models, one of a traditional and the other of a modem Jew- i s h home. My excuse is that I am not aiming at rociological accuracy , , . but at cbrity of exposition. First, the idealized version of the tradi-

I: tional Jewish home is characterized by a high degree of intimacy, of . – :Ir love, afdevotion, usually non-demonstrative. The husband normally ' is a monogamist and the wife is satisfied to he at home. As opposed

' to this, contemporaw parents are more remote. They are encouraged i), 5,' to follow their own interes.. The mother is told that she should not i &W her life to be wrapped up entirely in her children and in her : home, but should find outside interests. The father, when he comes

I . – back from the ofice, seeks out a peer group or other kinds of in- c , I, voIv-nts, As a resillt, the parents seek their own pariicidar levels


– 0 ' interest, or areas of interest, and are removed from the nexus of !,,, , the home.