Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Martin Henry | Silver-ager and column anniversary

Published:Sunday | October 30, 2016 | 10:00 AM
Martin Henry
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It's nice to see the show of public support for silver-agers remaining at work. I am now one. And didn't even know that the term 'silver-ager' existed before I read Andre Poyser's article, 'Silver-agers irreplaceable in economy'. Not that I'd mind retirement with productive alternatives to a job. Like writing fulltime. Does anyone have an irresistible offer?

Part of what I have been doing with my time since youth is writing this column, which turns 29 this week. Almost as old as my eldest, who falls off the calendar at the end of tomorrow.

The Gleaner article on silver-agers had its focus on over-50s in the economy, the usual. The vox pop people and two old men, Dr Henley Morgan and Dr Leahcim Semaj, sprang to the defence of older people remaining at work as 'indispensable' contributors to the labour force with their skills and experience, maturity, and discipline.

But over-50s remaining at work is really a non-argument. For one thing, populations are ageing everywhere as life expectancy increases and fertility rates decrease. If older people are yanked out of the workforce, entire economies will simply collapse.

Then the young hotheads who think retiring older people will leave more jobs available for younger workers may be completely unaware that it is current workers' contributions that are really paying for the pensions of retirees.

And a global pension crisis is brewing. Walter Molano wrote about it a couple of weeks ago (October 14) in the Financial Gleaner in his column, 'The global pension fund crisis'. "A series of converging trends [is] threatening to create a crisis of epic proportions" for pension schemes around the world. More retirees, longer lifespans, and weak interest returns on pension-fund investments are leading to increased payout demands at the same time that investment returns are declining.

 

PITIFUL BENEFITS

 

And just last week, this newspaper was enquiring, 'Whither the NIS?' This as Parliament voted an amendment to the National Insurance Act aimed at shoring up the Scheme, which pays pitiful benefits and could go bankrupt, on current trends, by 2033, a mere 17 years from now.

Stirred by the looming threat, Government is moving to incrementally extend the age of retirement for public sector workers to 65 and to get public-sector workers to contribute to their own pension funds.

So more older people are going to be around at work in the future. But people, young and old, are more than workers and consumers. They are people.

On the consumption side, older people are actually good for the economy. People generally achieve their highest income towards the end of their working life. And whether they spend it or they save it for others to borrow and spend, these higher incomes are good for the economy.

As a silver-ager at a reflective stage of life, I am drawn back to considering Erik Erikson's life stages, which I learned in psychology class for the postgraduate diploma in education. The Germany-born American psychologist, who went on to live to 92, proposed that we all pass through eight life stages - if we live to grow old. Influenced as he was by Freud, Erikson saw each life stage marked by an identity crisis.

Silver-agers are running across the last part of Erikson's Stage 7, the middle-aged adult, and the first part of Stage 8 and last, the late adult. The defining features: generativity vs self-absorption integrity vs despair; care, progressing to wisdom. The positive attributes very valuable to society and to the workplace.

Career, work, and family are the most important things at the middle-aged adult stage. Middle adulthood is also the time when people take on greater responsibilities and control. For this stage, working to establish stability and Erikson's concept of 'generativity' - attempting to produce something that makes a difference to society. Inactivity and meaninglessness are common fears during this stage.

Some major life shifts also take place during this stage. For example, children leave the household. Some people at this stage may struggle with finding purpose. Significant relationships are those within the family, workplace, local church, and other communities. The key identity issue is, Can I make my life count?

The late adult stage involves much reflection. Some older people look back with a feeling of integrity, contentment, and fulfilment, having led a meaningful life and made valuable contributions to society. Others may develop a sense of despair during this stage, reflecting upon their experiences and failures. They may fear death as they struggle to find a purpose to their lives, wondering, What was the point of life? Was it worth it? The key question for this reflection upon life lived is, Is it OK to have been me?

Erik Erikson has got a lot of it right! Earlier this month, I attended the launch of philosopher Martin Schade's book, Incarnation: The Harmony of One Love in the Totality of Reality, at the University of Technology. Schade may be a professional philosopher with a new idea, but all humans, conscious, rational, and reflective, are philosophers. We reflect upon and must make decisions about meaning and purpose and being (metaphysics). We think about the 'ought' in our conduct and relationships (ethics, although we don't always do it. And, even fleetingly, we consider what we know and how we come to know it and how reliable it is (epistemology).

 

MATURING PHILOSOPHERS

 

Erikson's thoughts about human developmental psychology see us all as maturing philosophers meeting and dealing with crises of identity.

This column has travelled with me through most of my adult life. Only my family, my church, and a handful of friendships have been around longer continually.

On the occasion of being selected for the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism six years ago in 2010, I did some serious reflection on what the Martin Henry column was about. Descartes famously declared, "I think, therefore I am." I think, too, deeply, but must add, I write, therefore I am." The column has been rooted in philosophical reflection about nearly everything. And it pleases me no end when readers recognise and acknowledge its philosophical grounding.

Editor Dudley Stokes plucked a dozen of us off the streets, mostly young people, by advertisement, not personal invitation, to write newspaper columns alongside the greats like Morris Cargill, John Hearne, and Dawn Ritch. I am forever grateful. And Stokes, gone to his rest at the tender age of 73, is in my Hall of Personal High-Impact Influencers.

Technology is busily creating a new world. Faster than many silver-agers can keep up with. Although everyone is facing the crisis of adaptation which Alvin Toffler predicted in Future Shock, his book, which I reviewed for Use of English as a university freshman in the late '70s. But as history, philosophy, theology, and literature teach those willing to learn, the fundamental human condition and concerns are constants in change.

 - Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.