Everyone wants to retire! North America, specifically the USA, is under the impression that we are inventing the world as we go. Not so! Take the concept of retirement. Not the actuality, just the concept will do for today. This whole notion of an arbitrary clock ticking down to a future day when we are graciously deemed obsolete has all been dreamt up in the last half century to help sell us something we probably don’t really need. Prior to that you worked until you dropped, and you liked it just fine. Why, because you were still a part of all the things that had comprised your life. You were still who you are, instead of who you were. It’s true your jobs and responsibilities changed with age. You no longer cut the trees down or built the barns or birthed the babies; your focus subtly shifted toward selecting the trees, cataloguing the materials necessary for the barn building or being the mid wife for the birth and the teacher and nurturer of the kids.
No other culture in human history dreamt up the idea of isolating their seniors. No other culture, past or present, decided that not only would they be removed from participating in the main stream activities of the society’s life, but further that they would be physically removed from even being in the same places that such work or decision making was taking place. The golf course, bowling alley and a host of other casual amusements targeted the retiree in their marketing. Their story was as soothing as a warm bath. A life of work was an enslaved existence, whereas a life of retirement was one of fulfillment. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for this in an aging person’s schedule. Maybe it’s just that it doesn’t have to be the whole shebang.
We’re casting off the single most important commodity in the world, experience. This is true of plants, animals and humans. All benefit from those that came before them. We just have to take a look at Asia, Europe and aboriginal tribal societies throughout the world today. They all share one central cultural cornerstone. They all treat their elders with respect. They keep them close by to help provide continuity and above all else, guidance.
The question is, what are we in the western world going to do now? Part of the answer may be to ask someone that’s been on our planet for awhile, rather than handing the reins over to someone with little experience simply because they can make a good speech. After all, it’s your lifestyle we’re talking about. What’s the point in listening to someone that could very well know less than you?
[A version of this first appeared on my financial planning blog theavantiriff.]