In times of austerity reforms, delayed retirements, fiscal cliffs and economic crisis who in the Western world really thinks about those who (might) have already left the business ranks? In a Me-First world, in which “never enough” is the mainstream culture, how could we ever find the time to connect to our elders?
This blog is no different! It’s embarassing to say it took me 40 posts about strategy, communication, meaning and psycho-sociological analysis of intergenerational collaboration to get to the eldest of the five generations sharing our planet today: the Greatest Generation (also known as Traditionalists or Silent Generation)!
I’ll spare you the long History lesson. You’ve all heard about the despairs of the Great Depression, the unimaginable atrocities of the Great Wars and the impact they had on the psyche of this generation of heroes rising to the occasion. They’ve not only endured long periods of hopelessness, but have also silently and steadily rebuilt their world over and again. To achieve this rebirth, Traditionalists main resources were reliability and self-sacrifice for the common good. In some regions of the planet, they’ve raised Baby Boomers in times of increasing hope and have witnessed more than any other generation on Earth the dramatic change of life in the cities, for better or for worse.
In the Western world, is it only selfishness and lack of respect that stop us from having meaningful conversations with our elders? I dare to say the discomfort we experience when considering connecting to them lies in the confrontation of our own ageing (in a world dominated by an obsession with youth) and finitude.
Moreover, those who venture in those conversations discover a different period, a period of unarguably heroic deeds and extreme courage. How could one not experience emptiness when comparing those stories with their daily lives? Despite the frequent superhero movie remakes, it has become clear that we now live in a time where heroism has acquired subtler tones.
For 2 years, I’ve volunteered within a ONG that provides psychological support to people in need. From the wide array of callers, the majority were in their 70s and 80s. Contrary to our societal assumptions, what scared them the most was not dying, but living. Living in solitude, after the loss of a loved one (with which they’ve built half, if not more, of their lives) and after the loss of a sense of utility.
This is a generation that was never taught to age! When they were young, life expectancy was only half of their current age and back then surviving was more important than planning. No one warned them they were to work their whole lives only to find themselves with a second life: retired, often lonely and trapped inside their homes (for mobility or fear-related causes) and with few options to contribute to a society that rejects them.
More dramatic yet, as they disappear, so do their stories and their legacy of suffering and growth. Will textbooks suffice in the years to come to guide us through the ever challenging changes of our post-modern world? Can we spare receiving and passing on this wisdom, as so many tribes have done for millenia?
But there’s hope!
Ski-champion Jeremy Bloom’s Wish of a Lifetime Foundation not only rewards seniors with a wish, but more importantly restores the lost caring bonds between elders and young generations
By putting portraits of men and women of different age side-by-side, Belgian photographer Edouard Janssens’ «1-100 Years» project invites us to reflect upon a new life expectancy and our assumptions about age, vanity, happiness and accomplishment
I agree the discussions about retirement age and social security are essential for a society. At the same time, it’s about time we get into the difficult conversations about what happens then, not only materially or physically but mainly psychologically and spiritually. It’s about time we make some new choices on how we will live the second part of our lives, while empathizing and creating conditions for participation for those who are already there.
It’s about time we, as a society, choose new values to live by other than immediacy, beauty and youth, and stop wasting away our human potential. It’s about time we inspire ourselves from the incredible adaptability of the Greatest Generation and teach the future generations to embrace their elders and a longer life span with wisdom.
What have you learned from your last conversation with an elder?