I was scheduled to present this week on the section of “Social and Psychological Contexts of Aging” from Worlds of Difference. My passages were “Listening to the Young(er)” by Carolyn Heilbrun, and “If I Had My Life to Live Over” by Nadine Stair. In Heilbrun’s passage, she describes her friendships in old age with younger people, including college students. This suggests that she has some connection to academia. Heilbrun notes how her life in retirement and older age is extremely predictable and highly uneventful. However, when she is around her younger friends, their experiences and problems bring energy and excitement to her life, as she is able to live vicariously through them. Conversely, Heilbrun hypothesizes that her younger friends, and young people in general, seek out connections with older people because they provide the hope and knowledge that the problems, stresses and obstacles that they are facing in their professional and personal lives are surmountable. Older people serve as a model for younger people that all of their hard work and stress will eventually lead them somewhere in their lives and will not last forever or be the end of the world. This knowledge brings comfort and reassurance to young people. Heilbrun also claims that it is necessary for older people to “keep up with the times” and not judge young people based off of youth culture. In doing so, Heilbrun believes that older people are limiting themselves and their experiences and becoming set in their ways and cynical. They are not allowing themselves to continue to grow emotionally and intellectually and experience life the way they did when they were younger and did not have as much hindsight as wisdom. Rather, Heilbrun believes that, while older people’s advice can be necessary for young people, it is more helpful for them to allow young people to talk to them and share their views, rather than the other way around. This passage resonated with me, as I grew up with six grandparents who all played a very active role in my upbringing, as well as my brothers’ upbringings. They all varied in their acceptance of youth culture but served as beacons of wisdom and advice that my brothers and I came to rely on. Despite the disparity in my grandparents’ receptiveness to youth culture, I learned many lessons from having to navigate these different approaches to the younger generation. I also witnessed the vicarious living in all of my grandparents, as they celebrated the accomplishments of my brothers and myself and also took them to heart by sharing them with their own circle of friends. I also agree with Heilbrun’s belief that older people serve as a sign of reassurance for young people. Whenever I had an issue or anxiety in my life, especially during periods of transition, my grandparents always had hindsight through which to help me focus on the positive aspects of this stage of life and how to make the most of it.
The second passage I presented was “If I Had My Life to Live Over” by Nadine Stair. In this short passage, Stair claims that she is at the end of her life and regrets that she was not more adventurous and carefree during her life. Stair claims that if she could live her life over again, she would not take things as seriously and would take more time to stop and sniff the roses. This passage resonated with me, as I am a person who takes everything very seriously, and I am always thinking in the future rather than in the present, which causes me to miss many of the joys of the present. This passage reminded me of a conversation I had with a close friend who is currently 30 years old. She and I have very similar personalities, and we were always serious, responsible and hardworking. However, my friend cautioned me not to “grow up too fast” and to make time to have fun in my life as well. One of my biggest fears is that I will reach the end of my life and be filled with regret at the things I did not do or accomplish. Stair’s passage served as another sobering and poignant reminder to me to live my best life every day, and to make time for fun, happiness, joy, and laughter, instead of always being serious or doing the “responsible” thing.
After we presented our passages, we watched on the aging population of the United States and how this will impact the workforce, retirement, and Social Security. Our lives are divided into several sections: Childhood, Adulthood, and Retirement. This model worked during the Baby Boomer generation, but has now become obsolete with the aging population, increased population, and impending bankruptcy of Social Security. This model also contributes to severe burnout in employees that limits people’s productivity and desire to be active in their communities after they reach the age of 65. The documentary suggests that creating a model that emphasizes mixing in periods of work and education with periods of rest and leisure, as well as creating new positions, such a mentorships, to older employees, reduced working hours, or more part-time positions with living wages, will help reduce the strain on people in the workforce, especially in their late 50s, which is when people feel the biggest crunch with financially supporting themselves at work, grown children in college, and their aging parents all at once. In addition, the documentary suggests that to prevent bankruptcy of Social Security, the max taxable income of approximately $118,000 must be either lifted or removed completely, and this will add billions of dollars for Social Security. I appreciated the documentary due to its diverse approach to aging, as well as its belief that work, retirement and aging do not have to be so rigid. I hope to have a successful career someday, but my hope is that I will not be so constrained in my career that I eventually become burnt out and cynical in a job that I would love otherwise if those pressures were not present. I feel that this documentary has the potential to start a conversation that will send the United States in that direction, and this makes me hopeful for the future of elders and people in the workforce in the United States.