Teo You Yenn




  • an excerpt from This Is What Inequality Looks Like


an excerpt from This Is What Inequality Looks Like

WHAT is dignity if it is conditional?

One morning, as I was drafting this essay, I watched a series of short films commissioned by the Lien Foundation. It is a project called Genki Kaki and features a visit by two older Singaporean women to Japan to see some instances of what has been done in Japan as it transitions into an older population. The pair visited “elderly-friendly malls, restaurants, shopping streets, gyms and places that provide residential and day-care in and around Tokyo.”

The films moved me deeply. They featured various organizations designing spaces and objects to suit the changing needs of ageing bodies. In them, young people talked to older people in regular, non-condescending tones, and they spoke sincerely of valuing older persons’ wisdom and knowledge. The respect accorded to older persons, the feeling one got of their continued belonging in society as they aged, the expressions and body language of security in one’s self-worth among older people—these were images that felt alien to me. I thought to myself: Oh. This is what dignity really looks like.

It occurred to me then that the examples I gave of myself feeling esteem, respect, self-worth—they are fleeting. The respect I am accorded are conditional on my participation in society as an economically productive and relatively wealthy person. It has little to do with my inherent right to respect as a human being and member of this society. That it is conditional is palpable because I see that those who do not meet the conditions I currently have do not get it. It is also palpable when I look at people with more power and/or wealth than me and I see how they are treated with what looks like more respect. If the performance of respect can vary so much by rank, can it be esteem for the person rather than their position?

Respect that is conditional on narrow practices can easily be withheld. I think it is different, qualitatively, from the respect that is given and received between people who believe in the inherent worth and integrity of other human beings.

© Ethos Books

by Teo You Yenn
from This Is What Inequality Looks Like (2018)
published by Ethos Books