I was at a function where an aging woman was telling a group of acquaintances how upset she was about a political issue.

“Incensed” might be a better description of her emotion. She was able to articulate the rationale behind her feelings perfectly. Some in the group listened politely; some were sympathetic; and some looked at her with smiles and chuckles that indicated they were regarding her as one would a small, worked up child. It wasn’t that the latter group lacked affection for the woman. It was simply that they did not have respect for what she was saying and could not nor would not suppress their own body language. These people commented that she was “cute” to one another, but they did not appear to regard her as an intellectual equal in the matter she was addressing.

In a different setting, “cute” has had a different meaning in my experience. In a nursing home, a woman with advanced dementia had lost her ability to speak in coherent sentences but she could still talk. She was an affectionate and loving person. Often when the staff would lean in close to talk to her, her face would light up and she would pat their cheeks and try so hard to say, “Oh, I just love you!” All of the staff loved her. When music with an up-tempo beat was playing she would put her arms up and begin to move her hips in her wheelchair with great enthusiasm and a smile. It was nearly impossible not to look at her and remark to another employee, “She’s so cute!”

     “Cute” is a word that causes some people to be offended when it is used to describe an older individual.

I have written before about the value of trying to consider the intent of the speaker when using the word “cute”, or similar words that one could take offense to even when the intention is positive. Pausing to understand the objective of the speaker before allowing feelings of resentment to build can save you from aggravation or hurt that you simply do not need in your life.

The dictionary defines “cute” as being attractive in a delicate or childish way. Although some consider the word cute to be a description that is lacking in respect or is intended as diminutive, in many cases, I disagree. When people look at small animals or babies, they say that they are cute. They have affectionate feelings toward the creatures they refer to as “cute”. When people call an older person “cute”, they often feel that the aging person possesses the same type of innocence or frailty as a small child has. The word is not meant to be derogatory or degrading in any way. Try not to take it as such. Calling a senior “cute” to their face is risky, though. Unlike children, adults might not see themselves as cute and might be offended. Above all, respect should take priority.

Here is a reality-check: most younger people do not tend to view older people as attractive. They usually do not view them as sexy. Younger people view aging people as wise, interesting, or admirable. Those who can appreciate beauty in aging might describe elders as handsome, beautiful, or cool. Many use the term “cute” for those seniors who do not fall into their definitions of the other words. This is to be expected. Cute means, “I like you or I love you.”

There is a fine line, however, where cute can mean a lack of respect as in the case of the woman I met at the meeting. There is nothing cute about a fellow adult who is in a rage.

Any reasonable adult would feel mocked that another person would find humor or charm in the angry person’s emotion, or any other strong emotion they are feeling.  

Anyone who finds these emotions delightful, needs to readjust their thinking and evaluate their own lack of sensitivity.

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