THE OTHER DAY, I was sitting with a friend who seems to have some misguided aspirations toward getting into this business (whatever “this business” is), and we drifted into the topic of the Silver Tsunami, aka the dreaded boomers.
I, of course, was busily providing all manner of piercingly insightful demographic insights when she said, “Well, what’s your solution?”
Uncharacteristically, I was forced to actually shut up for a moment while I let that sink in.
“Well, what’s your solution?” Fair question.
A fair answer
Here’s a fair (meaning better than poor, not as good as good) answer:
There’s an underlying premise to that question: One only needs to have a solution if there’s a problem, and I’m not inclined to agree that there’s a problem.
Oh, I’m painfully aware of all the wailing, moaning and gnashing of teeth that has accompanied us boomers since puberty, and (despite my best efforts) I’m particularly aware of all the big-picture hand-wringing that has decorated our approach to (and now attainment of) our retirement years:
• What about the impact on Social Security?
• What about the impact on Medicare?
• What about the costs of health care?
• What about the rising costs of entitlement programs?
• Housing? Transportation? Long-term care?
Time to vent
Would you indulge me for a moment while I dunk myself in a vat of cynicism? Thank you.
What about ’em?
Well, really. We had 60-some-odd years to plan for this and couldn’t seem to get out of our own collective way long enough to do it?
Now we’re shocked?
“Where did all these people come from?”
From the Greatest Generation?
I feel better.
I acknowledge that the financial impacts are considerable, exacerbated by our inopportune refusal to die on traditional schedule.
And I acknowledge that the collective we are going to have to change some things in order to accommodate ourselves — an expanded and longer-living version of ourselves.
And that might mean we won’t be able to do everything that we’ve been doing in exactly the same ways we’ve been doing them, which might someday be charitably interpreted as progress.
Crisis, masquerading as necessity, is the mother of invention.
At this point, I could really go on about changing our views about retirement, adapting work and work environments to an aging workforce, universal design, individual vs. systemic responsibility, instituting a social draft as a part of retirement and other equally entertaining notions about being old enough to know better, but not today.
Today, I want to go back to my friend’s quite reasonable question about a solution to what must be a problem.
Personalize the answer
And I want to personalize it.
I want to personalize it to the hundreds of 65-and-olders whom I know or have talked to or listened to, and to the millions whom I don’t know: No, Mrs. Jones, you are not a problem.
I know that you hear that every day, one way or another — that you’re a problem because you’re costing us (the government, society, etc.) too much.
There were too many of you in the first place, and now you’re living too long and you’re just a walking, talking liability.
No, ma’am, you are not.
You were born, you grew up (somehow), you had a life, you likely had kids, you likely paid taxes and you very likely helped other people.
I’m certain that you did the best you could with what you had.
You aspired to decency and you often achieved it.
You’ve lived and loved and (mostly) played by the rules.
You’ve worked — hard.
You’ve sacrificed, you’ve tried and you’ve contributed.
You’ve often done everything that was asked of you and you’ve often done more.
And after all of that, you’re now supposed to accept that you’re a problem?
Not the problem
No, ma’am, you are not.
Maybe politics are a problem — or money, greed or fear of change.
Maybe a government that hasn’t caught up with the society it attempts to govern is a problem.
Maybe old institutions functioning in old ways are a problem.
Maybe a society that hasn’t figured out (yet) how to provide you with the opportunities to keep doing what you do best is a problem.
Maybe it’s affordable health care and prescription drugs.
Maybe it’s communities that haven’t (yet) figured out transportation.
Maybe a lot of things are problems.
But not you — you are not the problem.
You, Mrs. Jones, are likely the solution.
Don’t buy into this and don’t fade away.
Don’t act like somehow you deserve to be discounted, if not demeaned.
You will be respected if you refuse to be disrespected.
Force change. Acknowledge life.
Then, go be a part of that change — however small, however local, however unheralded that might be.
Refuse to give up, refuse to give in, refuse to sit behind closed curtains and refuse to be condemned for being a part of life.
Be a part of life.
End of problem.
Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.