When my husband took early retirement from his first career to move on to his next career he was given a rocking chair.
That rocking chair, that he refused to sit in, perfectly symbolizes the mindset and lifestyle of the retirement culture that has evolved since passage of the Social Security Act in the 1930s. In effect, the SSA not only institutionalized age 65 as the time to retire; in effect, it also authorized and legitimized premature mental and physical decline.
in the 1930s, before “retirement” became the approved way to live the final years, premature decline was not an issue because people didn’t live much beyond age sixty five. At that time, a rocking chair as a retirement gift would have been appropriate because the thinking and reality was, you wouldn’t live longer than a few more years, so sit in a rocking chair — you worked hard all your life and you deserve to take it easy.
Fast forward to 2017. The lifespan has increased by 30 years — something that could not have been foreseen when people were not living much past age sixty-five. Today, people still retire at age 65 or before, possibly having another 20-30 unexpected “bonus” years to live. The tragedy is that today, the same “you are going to die soon so enjoy yourself” mentality that existed in the 1930s has not changed.
While more current retirees have discarded the notion that the retirement years are the time to sit in a rocking chair and wait for the Grim Reaper, nevertheless, a decline oriented lifestyle is still preferred by most retirees. They chafe at the idea that perhaps they should do something that would really challenge their brain and keep their the body in shape. God forbid that they should do anything “stressful”. After all, they will tell you, “I worked hard all of my life and I deserve to take it easy.”
Those nearing retirement age are constantly reminded that they should prepare financially for the retirement years, and that’s wise advice. But how often does a financial retirement planner ask a would-be retiree, “What do you plan to do with the money you save other than play golf or travel?” The would-be retiree probably would be stunned by such a question. After all, isn’t retirement the time to do all the established customary, traditional things retirees are supposed to do and find enjoyment in doing? Sure, but no one is mentioning that if you follow tradition, and do as it dictates, rapid and insidious decline quickly occurs. Every Social Security check should have a warning attached to it: Use it or lose it
Let’s summarize reality. The government established the dogma that age 65 or before is the time to relax, have fun and do as little as possible. After all, you worked hard all your life and you deserve to take it easy.
Approximately five years into retirement, after the inevitable decline starts to appear as a result of living “the good life” and luxuriating in the earned pot of leisure gold, along comes the government and an assortment of do-gooders (often looking for government funding for their do-good projects) who chant, “Seniors need to be more active. They need to participate in activities that stimulate the brain and strengthen the body. We need to set up special programs to help seniors avoid all the decline that shows up as dependence, cognitive decline, and an assortment of health issues. Inactive seniors are a drain on the health care system and the economy. SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE ABOUT IT.”
Here’s a revolutionary idea: How about we get rid of institutionalized retirement, or at least, raise the retirement age. How about we start changing cultural and traditional norms and attitudes that tell people at 65, subliminally or overtly, that they are “old” (or even elderly!) and that they “deserve” to allow their mind and body to decay because they worked X number of years.
How about we start encouraging and actually help “old” people rev up their potential and start doing things that not only benefit themselves but others? Because people get “old” in years doesn’t mean they necessarily become useless relics incapable of remarkable accomplishments.
That “magic” won’t happen unless we give up the notion that at a government designated age, growth and productive life should cease and that’s it’s time to allow the process of irreversible decline to begin.
Retirees in the decline process are often fiercely protective of and oblivious to their condition. They are clueless about what is happening and has happened to their mind and body. They will recite all the “stay busy” activities they are involved in and bristle at the idea that they are in decline. They have legions of retired friends who will attest to their happiness and competence and chastise anyone who would suggest their life might have been far more rewarding for themselves and others if they had chosen a different path early on.
We all pay a price for premature decline. It is not just a personal burden for old people and their families who must deal with it. Premature decline impacts the lives and pocketbooks of all of us in one way or another sooner or later.
©Barbara Morris June 2017
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