Old Folks’ Day

Happy IDOP everyone! Oh, you didn’t know that the United Nations
implemented October 1st as the International Day of Older Persons 16
years ago? Well, it’s true. Lots of information available online about
the UN Program on Ageing. The opening remark by the Secretary General pretty well sums up what it is all about.

"I am only one of 600 million persons in the world over the age of
60. As people across the globe come to live increasingly longer lives,
our entire human family has a stake in encouraging and easing a
productive, active and healthy ageing process. The whole world stands
to gain from an empowered older generation, with the potential to make
tremendous contributions to the development process and to the work of
building more productive, peaceful and sustainable societies."

scale and scope of this day’s focus at the United Nations underscores
the growing awareness of Western societies’ cultural devaluing and
outright discrimination against older human beings. Perhaps worse than
discrimination is indifference, a marginalization of who we are and
what we have to contribute. The agenda of the day includes lots of talk
about ‘mainstreaming’ older persons—formulating social policies that
take into account issues of older human beings. It is all good news for
shining a light on unenlightened institutions and cultural blind spots.

The statistics are also interesting—predictions that almost 2
billion folks worldwide will be living past 60 by 2050 and an
unprecedented number will be over 70, 80, and even 100. Given today’s
archetypes of older persons, it isn’t surprising that this is seen as a
looming problem of enormous proportions. Those numbers suggest between
a third and a fourth of mankind will be living in a state which is
normally viewed as being one of isolation, decline, loss and failing
health. In the face of this kind of cultural horizon, is it any wonder
that so many people become deeply resigned, give up and do their best
to cope and be as comfortable as possible until the final loss—of life

But there are two aspects to this demographic wave that aren’t being
acknowledged in the learned papers and that go largely unnoticed in the
growing media penchant for ‘Baby Boomer’ stories.

The first is that there is something disquieting about turning a
generation of people as large as the global ‘Baby Boom’ into
constituents, target markets, objects of political currency and
problems to be solved. The conversation seems to put us in the same
category as the ‘war on cancer’ or teen pregnancy or global warming.
Being old isn’t in itself a disease to be treated. And while we share
many concerns, we’ve always shared concerns and don’t need to be put
under microscopes to be studied, analyzed and debated.

Why should anyone need to negotiate for policies to justify dignity,
the right to earning a living or participating in any aspect of
society? While it is coming to that, I suggest that we need to step
forward and be responsible for the society as a whole, keep attention
on the deeper underlying cultural, spiritual and philosophical problems
that we’ve played some role in creating and maintaining over the past
60 years. Rather than lobbying for pro-aging policy, we might vote for
leaders who are simply pro-human and have the courage to campaign for
and promote policies that bring us closer together rather than further
fragment us and drive us apart.

The second aspect of the aging phenomenon is more subtle, but
perhaps more profound. At least in the United States, it is fairly
obvious that the ‘Baby Boom generation’ has constituted a critical mass
of people in the context of the society as a whole and has more or less
defined the conversation for the whole society. When the Boomers were
children, everything from TV to city planning became about suburbs,
stationwagons and corner schoolhouses. As teens, we brought forth rock
’n’ roll and as we grew older we celebrated the ‘Age of Aquarius’ and
saw the birth of civil rights, feminism, and the Internet. We’ve also
seen our generation become split along liberal / conservative lines and
can all witness the struggle to find common ground on most areas of
social, environmental and economic policies.

What happens when this demographic ‘critical mass’ reaches the age
at which most people become resigned—when they all lose contact with
any possibility of progress and change? Will it mean that our society
as a whole will lose touch with our power to create our reality and our
world? Will resignation replace the American Dream? Will the world
enter into a hiatus for one or two generations until the ‘old’ die and
the ‘young’ again have the space to create their vision? And when they
do, will they create a world in which aging isn’t a problem, but a
natural part of living that people look forward to? Can they imagine a
world in which old and young are different sides of the same coin—older
AND younger instead of older OR younger?

At the end of today, the International Day of Older People, the
world will be pretty much the same as it was yesterday. But perhaps, if
enough of us wake up to the occasion and embrace the possibility of
universal empowerment, then today will be the first day in bringing
forth a transformation of social consciousness that will have ‘who we
are’ be more important than ‘how old we are’.

Have a good IDOP…