Time to Become a Passive Spectator?

Recently, I was interviewed for a U.S. radio program. The moderator sent me into emotional orbit with an unexpected question:

Hasn’t your generation done enough damage to the world? Don’t you think it’s time you all took a back seat and let younger people steer us in a better direction?

Initially, my thoughts flew to the current Supreme Court nominee, and to the panel of white men, three of whom had heard similar testimony in 1991, the year of the Clarence Thomas hearing. The question of whether their views had changed in the past 27 years flitted through my head, along with the question of how many people ever shift from positions they adopted in early adulthood.

But then, I took a deep breath, and thought about all the people in my actual life as opposed to those featured in the media. And there was my answer. The people I know, the people in my world, the people whose actions continue to inspire me, these are people who have responded thoughtfully to misfortune which they have either personally experienced or witnessed. The range of causes these people support, the variety of ways they find to reach out continues to astound me.

The retirees in my world devote countless hours to fund-raising, to promoting awareness of social, political, cultural, medical, environmental, ethical issues, and to much else.  In whatever ways they can, these elders put their shoulder to the wheel.

Retirement is not an opportunity to wash our hands of the world, saying “I’ve done my bit.” The older people in my life are proof positive that we are advancing  in our awareness of right and wrong, and that as a society, we are moving forward, even if only a nanometer at a time. Here’s how David Brooks expresses it:

None of us should ever wish to go back to the culture of the mid-twentieth century. It was a more racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic culture, with bland food and homogeneous living arrangements. It was an enormously cold culture. Fathers, in particular, frequently were unable to express their love for their own children. Husbands were unable to see the depth in their own wives. In so many ways, life is better now than it was then.[1]

So how did I respond to moderator who suggested that seniors should all move aside so that a new generation could catapult us to new levels of awareness?

To the best of my knowledge, I muttered something about no generation having all the answers, and that wisdom can be indeed be found among the young, but also among the old.

To be old is not necessarily to be wise, any more than being young means being mindless. What I should have had at hand is my favourite quote from Maggie Kuhn[2], founder of the Grey Panthers:

We are the elders, the experienced ones,…responsible for the survival of our society. We are not wrinkled babies, succumbing to trivial, purposeless waste of our years and our time. We are a new breed of old people.

I could have balanced that statement with examples of young people who are leaders. Some have championed “environmentalism” and the accompanying awareness of what we are doing to planet earth. Some like Craig and Marc Kielburger have inspired millions to take action to make the world a better place. Universities everywhere have had to step up to meet the demands of a new generation of young people eager to expand their awareness and to develop their effectiveness as agents for change.

It’s my belief that young and old can work together; we need not be pitted against one another. Instead of a world of us against them, as has so frequently been the case in the past, we must build a world in which we all reach out to one another, finding ways to share and ways to protect  our precious planet and its inhabitants, – its  plants, its  animals, its human beings in all their magnificent diversity.

[1] David Brooks, The Road to Character. N.Y., Random House, 2015, p.5.

[2] Quoted in Theodore Roszack, The Making of an Elder Culture : Reflections on the Future of America’s Most Audacious Generation. Gabriola Island, BC, New Society Publishers, 2009, p. 8