Retirement and Aging

Is it necessary that our lives place so much emphasis on employment, productivity, earnings?

Both disengagement and conflict theories give a lot of attention to the meaning of work. This I believe, is justifiable. The achievements and social status associated with occupation are major ingredients in the way we judge ourselves and others. When asked who we are, don’t we often answer in terms of our work?

As long as values associated with work remain dominant in our society, they will continue being important for the old as well as the young. The barren thought that there really is no life worth mentioning after work, has been disproved many times. Increasingly, studies of the retirement years reveal their diversity.

Not all retirees stay retired! Many continue to be active in fields related to their lifelong interests. Others cultivate new interests or return to those interests that they could not find time for, earlier in life.

It is probable that values such as learning, self-discovery and helping other people, will come to be regarded with the same respect as workplace productivity. There are already signs in the culture that using time for pleasure and recreation is less accompanied by guilt as it was before.

Non-work activities therefore will not be looked upon as merely marking time. In fact, with this philosophy going forward, the older adult will begin demanding more opportunities to enjoy these activities.

Still, the prevalence of stereotyping is a way of rationalizing the exclusion of the old from positions of opportunity in the workforce. The young may be dismissed as irresponsible and frivolous, while the old are perceived as used up and rigid. Age stereotyping then begins to take on a sinister character.

I am however convinced there is a more constructive approach where society has, for too long, created definitions that set people apart from others, but with time may also foster a clearer vision to re-define and integrate.

There is more than one way to retain the process of sharing in a mutual and civil manner that is not necessarily the worst way to adopt. I am further convinced that the more people become aware of the damage that age-based exclusions cause, the more chances there will be to develop alternatives. The young as well as the old can benefit by standing together on many issues that affect them. So then, I strongly urge everyone to take control of their health so that retirement may be viewed as a time for growth and not a downward spiraling.

Eubie Blake, the noted jazz pianist said it best at his 100th birthday: “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”

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