In a culture based on biblical values, conversely, the elderly are celebrated. In fact, the Bible tells us that we should stand up for someone older than ourselves just because they are more advanced in age, and for no other reason (Leviticus 19:32). But Western society doesn’t see things quite the same way.
And thus, the post-war generation that gave us the 1960s and the civil rights movement, that paved the way for the first black president, that created the Internet and the advanced technologies we hold in our pockets, does not want to be seen as elderly. They are therefore rejecting the labels associated with elderliness.
But clearly, even young people will one day become elderly. Growing old is a fact of life, no different to being, male, female, black, Asian, or Caucasian. It’s just who you are at that given moment. Another healthier strategy is to embrace who you are, especially when it's something that you cannot change. So instead of being in denial about the fact that one is old, the generation that taught us to embrace the diversity of humanity should themselves embrace the positivity that is associated with ageing. And, if any generation can revolutionize the way older people are seen, it is the boomer generation.
However, this will require a change in perception – not easily done, but not impossible either. The boomer generation helped us change perceptions about a huge variety of things. There’s no reason why they cannot help society as a whole, change the way age is viewed.
But first we must analyze why age gets such a bad rap from society. Theoretically at least, it seems that there is a link between adolescence and retirement. Teenagers are also often seen negatively by society. They are often seen as a burden, as a problem that needs to be solved. Although this is now changing – the negative perception of adolescents lingers. This primarily is because teenagers often live a life that is aimless or at drift. Studies show that only twenty percent of youth have purpose in their lives. They therefore often act in a manner that to an adult seems like they are wasting their lives.
Retirement is also a huge transitional period. Retirees go from having a job to be at or a business to run, to retirement where they no longer have a schedule, no longer have deadlines to meet, and where purpose is not dictated by anything other than what they feel like doing on a given day. And in this sense the years post-retirement and adolescence have much in common.
There is an abundance of research which has shown that purpose in the life of both adolescents and seniors has a huge impact on both their health, wellbeing and success. In particular, research has shown that seniors who have a purpose in life live longer, are less likely to suffer from heart attacks and less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s. Purpose and meaning is important across all ages and periods of life. But it is incredibly impactful both during adolescence and after the age of 50.
There is a growing movement in the United States to positively redefine what it means to be a senior. This is a vitally important endeavor, especially since the senior population is slated to grow by 74% in the next four years, compared to the pre-retirement population that will only grow by 5%. Boomers redefined what it means to be young, they redefined what it means to be middle aged, and I am looking forward to see how boomers redefine what it means to be a senior living with purpose.
Rabbi Levi Brackman is co-founder and executive director of Youth Directions , a non-profit organization that helps youth find and succeed at their unique positive purpose in life