Population aging is inevitable in societies where you have a combination of declining birth rates and longer life due to medical advancements. It imposes new realities for these societies, where they simply cannot afford to set an aging population adrift without the necessary programs and services to help them remain productive members of that society. It is disheartening to hear leaders label aging members of the societies as economically unproductive; or to see politicians treat aging as if it is a scourge on society, where members of this growing club are seen as nothing more than a tax drain. Building more housing complexes that serve to isolate this generation from the youth of these societies is not the answer either.
What business and government fail to see is that today’s aging population is eager to contribute fully to society. Like Jack Kornfield, author and Buddhist Practitioner, Boomers are asking: “How can I live in a way that maximizes, that fulfills the capacity for wakefulness, love, freedom, liberation of the human heart?” One way is to create opportunities that reconnect the generations in meaningful and valuable ways. We need better approaches to facilitate the contribution of aging members of our societies well into the later stages of life. We need to make government funding available to cover the costs associated with creating new programs that promote the well-being of all generations. Our children and their children are starving for role models and mentors as they try to figure out this crazy world they live in, whether in matters of life or work. The opportunities are unlimited to create the utopian societies we all dream about.
- At School
- Invite the newly retired to help overwhelmed teachers with curriculum activities or to help children with special needs.
- Partner Boomers with school counsellors to offer additional support to young people who are struggling with stress.
- Involve Boomers in after school and local youth programs such as the YMCA.
- Partner with libraries to start reading programs for children who have trouble reading.
- In community
- Create volunteer programs to replace the music and arts programs that the schools can no longer afford to fund. These programs enrich us all.
- Start new programs designed with children in mind through the local rotary clubs and legions.
- Start genealogy clubs so children can learn about their ancestors.
- Start cross-generational clubs at your church and involve youth.
- Start home cooking classes and invite young people to socialize, cook and share meals and great conversations. Get them away from technology.
- Use technology to match the interest of retirees with the needs of children.
- At Work
- Find ways to involve soon-to-be-retired employees in activities and projects that help prepare the next generation of workers to take on leadership roles.
- Invite retirees to participate in events that showcase career opportunities at your organization for those that are just beginning to consider post-secondary education and careers.
- Get retirees involved in spreading goodwill about the company where they spent a career. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of goodwill.
- At Home
- Partner with home builders to design and build inclusive communities that house multi-generations instead of housing that isolates the generations. Draw on successful models in Scandinavian countries.
- Create neighbourhood activities that foster interaction between old and young.
John F. Kennedy once said: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” This newest generation of seniors is ready to take on that new kind of leadership, one where they teach, but where they learn as much as they teach. And the younger generation is more than ready to teach the older generation. The collective experiences, insights and wisdom of Boomers beg to be openly shared with youth. The younger generations benefit from being exposed to new perspectives that enhance their understanding and it promotes well-being and development. The older generations benefit from maintaining invaluable connections with youth. The issue of ageism disappears and a new sense of purpose and contribution is ignited. It seems governments, businesses, schools and communities have important choices to make about how they will embrace this growing population segment. The best way to ensure the elders of a society remain vibrant and productive members is to facilitate their involvement, to liberate them to become all they are capable of becoming. By liberating them, society builds the foundation for paying forward generation after generation. Everyone wins. Utopia may not be that far-fetched after all.