Silver tsunami? Not really

An elderly man and woman walk with walking sticks towards Tanglin Halt Market, on Oct 24, 2018.
An elderly man and woman walk with walking sticks towards Tanglin Halt Market, on Oct 24, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

I am delighted that reporter Yuen Sin wrote to encourage millennials to care about the older generation, whom she unfortunately described as the "silver tsunami" (Why millennials should care about the silver tsunami, May 19).

She is, again unfortunately, not alone in using this phrase to describe them.

Many people do.

The phrase conveys a vivid imagery of a sudden overwhelming destructive force. The use is ironic for the column was far from viewing seniors as destructive. In fact, it was a positive and empathetic piece.

Words have power and how they are used matter because they frame one's perception of things.

By choosing the phrase "silver tsunami", it influences others to think about seniors in a certain way.

Specifically, the phrase strongly suggests that an ageing population is a burden to the economy and is as destructive to the nation as a tsunami. That viewpoint is debatable, to say the least.

The phrase conveys a vivid imagery of a sudden overwhelming destructive force...Specifically, the phrase strongly suggests that an ageing population is a burden to the economy and is as destructive to the nation as a tsunami. That viewpoint is debatable, to say the least.

Unfortunately, the continual use of the phrase will, as Dr Mark Pagel said in his 2013 TED talk, "implant our ideas" into another's mind.

Seniors, as correctly pointed out in the column, are frail and weak and consequently, vulnerable. They may be forgetful and, therefore, at risk, and may be "grappling with the emptiness and existential dilemmas of old age".

But this need not be a silver tsunami. In fact, many of them seek to inspire till they expire. Many live active lives contributing to the common good and well-being of society.

There are many other positive words and phrases that can be used to describe the ageing population.

William Wan (Dr)

General Secretary

Singapore Kindness Movement

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2019, with the headline 'Silver tsunami? Not really'. Print Edition | Subscribe