When wealthy Romans died, those surviving them would display wax masks of their faces in their homes, often in prominent locations like the home’s atrium, where it was plainly visible to visitors. It was not uncommon to pray to ancestors and, along with Roman gods, ask for their favor. To take pride in ancestors, to remember them, and to place them in the Roman Pantheon indicated a profound respect for an ancestor’s contributions to one’s present status.
Roman ancestor worship was eventually replaced by its companion in Christian filial devotion, as enshrined in the Bible through exhortations to respect one’s father and mother. Thus, the custom of respecting one’s elders continued unabated in the west for millennia.
By partaking of relationships founded upon family, religion, and culture, you were exchanging deference as a youth for the invaluable currency of wisdom accreted through the ages that would give you an advantage in leading a fruitful life. Doing this intimated that you alone were insufficient for getting through life successfully — and there was nothing shameful in this. To dismiss the wisdom of elders would be hubristic stupidity by ignorant youth.
But talk about filial piety, ancestral wisdom, or ancient ethics today and befuddled looks will greet you.
What business does a youth growing up in this age have respecting his elders, much less remembering the ones who are dead? With breakneck changes that make quotidian life incomprehensible to someone without a screen semi-permanently attached to their face, the information that shapes the lives of modern youth is undeniably different than anything their elders know.
Add to this jarring chasm the zealous individualism of modernity and a parent’s role today — much less a non-parental elder’s — is to daintily usher a child to the age of cognition, at which point the child will be released into the seas of society, which he will largely navigate himself. In this detached form of child rearing, the child never sees a reason to respect his elders because he feels that he has charted his own course and if he’s done that much, he can do anything else. The bounds of family, religion, and tradition become superfluous anachronisms that only serve to limit his creativity and…