On being an Elder: the responsibilities that come with the title

Elders have the wisdom to shape the world as it can be at its best, not necessarily with new inventions or leading the way to Mars.  But with our attitudes, our moral values and our votes. As elders we have a moral obligation to speak out against discrimination and an elemental responsibility to teach our grand kids what is right and what is morally reprehensible

Our views have weight.  We are the sages, the teachers, the philosophers with the perspective that only comes with age.  But we must speak out.  We can’t sit around grumbling about ‘the good old days. We must weigh in on the public debate on the preservation of the environment, the disparity of wealth, the continuing struggle against racism and the corrosive effects of imprecise scales of justice.

We deal with forgetfulness and have trouble remembering words and names, but we remember when Congress was an employee of the American people rather than the lobbyists.  

Aroused Elders can motivate the four in ten seniors who failed to vote in the last election and motivate a constituency that demands change. 

As our generation matured, there were strong views prevailing and the disputes were bitter.  But there was an underlying sense that both sides of the debate, however rabid and militant, could find common ground in the basic themes that made up ‘the American Way,’ as in Liberty and Justice for All.  Neighbors could declare themselves Republican or Democrat, but they still could borrow the hedge clippers when the hawthorn and blackthorn scrubs between their houses grew too tall.

But today, lamentably and shamefully, the polarized society that exists in America is unprecedented.  Half the population sees the world one way; half sees it another way.  And there is no middle ground.  The hedgerows are impenetrable.

The dilemma we face as Elders is “What to do about it?”  Traditionally, we are the voices of reason, anxious to ‘make peace’ by listening to each point of view and then tactfully finding compromises satisfactory to both sides.  But we should not be satisfied with simply salving umbrage. Human dignity is at stake!  We cannot leave this earth without speaking out and knowing we did the best we could to make our voices heard.

The issues are clear.  We are not being simplistic when we align ourselves on the side of love versus hatred, fear, racism, bigotry and intolerance.  To our dismay, when Americans were asked to cast a ballet in the proposition that all people are equal and deserve a place at the table, half the population said no. That’s why we must speak up. Being heard and taking a stand against injustice is our elemental responsibility. There is no time left for equivocating; no more ‘wait and see.’  We must choose between two existing versions of America and decide, what kind of country do we want to leave behind for our grandchildren?

There is a personal battle to be waged, as well.  The issue of ageism.

I was an old man at the Women’s March on Washington and applauded an alphabet soup of organizations fighting for sanctuary, economic equality, social justice, sexual liberation, the spectrum of causes that have galvanized women.  The common theme: we will not be marginalized; we will be heard; we demand a place in the halls of influence and power.

What impressed me was the tone of the oratory.  It’s not as if they were strident; more like “listen up, because we have a right to be heard.”   They were not asking for permission to speak; they were seizing the dais and carpe diem was the pronouncement.

It was inspiring, but among all the causes represented, one was absent. The issue of ageism had no signs waved in defiance by the marchers.  But surely it fits within the root demand that characterizes what the march was all about: we will not be marginalized; we will be heard; we demand a place in the halls of influence and power.  I can write the signs: “Old enough to know better and experienced enough to do it right.” When you’re over the hill you pick up speed,” “Retired, not expired!” and “Never tease an old dog; he might have one bite left.”

Ageism is a serious issue, but it gets nowhere near the attention focused on racism, or sexism or disability-based discrimination. Which is curious when you consider that by 2050 a fifth of the population, eighty-seven million Americans, will be over age 65 and subject to discrimination in housing, employment and downright disdain.

I’m calling for an Old Folks march!  In keeping with the stereotypes existent in today’s youth dominated society we’ll assemble sometime in late Spring, a half hour before the early bird special at the Pancake House when the weather is in the seventies, and the sun is out.

There’s no time to waste.  The bard reminds us, “Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust.” When we are reminded that our time is finite, immune to our laughable attempts to prolong it, what we must do is not let it pass us by as we stay idle.

The saying goes, “we die as we have lived.” In our final moments we want to look and be satisfied with the bio we’ve left behind, without being bedeviled by the unanswerable “what might have been.”

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