OUR OLDER PEOPLE: DO WE
OWE THEM ANYTHING?

The number of older Americans, defined as those over 65, is expected to increase from 43 million to 75 million in the next two decades. That is short—but not by much—of a doubling of that critical count. And why is it critical? Because it raises a critical question: Who shall take care of them?

The question, of course, is not limited to the United States. As the standard of living increases everywhere, as advances in medical science and technology continue, with one disease after another being defeated, life has been made better for people everywhere. And not only better…but longer.

And whether “longer” will continue to equate with “better” remains one of humanity’s biggest question marks. Were we better off, as a species, when we died younger? We have told ourselves, “No.” We have told ourselves that the longer we live (barring catastrophic and painful illness), the better. Yet if this is true, we face as a species that critical question: Who shall care for all the longer-living humans?

Do all of us, as members of this species, love those who gave us life—and, by their labors, opened us to its bounty—enough to grant them the fruits of those labors until they die? Even if it takes them a long time to die?

In essence, the question breaks down to this: To what—if anything—are older humans entitled?

That word—ENTITLEMENT—is playing a big role today in American politics. And on Oct. 16—the day of the second Presidential Debate—a story ran on the American television network CNN announcing that the rise in Social Security benefits in the United States will rise by only 1.7% in 2013, which, the news report said, “won’t be quite enough to cover the increase in prices over the last year.”

Still, the CNN report went on, “it’s better than the previous two years, when benefits did not rise at all.”

The cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security is based on the Consumer Price Index, the government’s key inflation reading, the CNN report explained.  The September reading came out Tuesday and it showed overall prices up 2% compared to a year earlier, greatly due to higher prices for food, gasoline and medical care. The so-called core-CPI, which is closely watched by economists and investors because it strips out volatile food and energy prices, also rose 2% over the last 12 months.

Yet even that index provides a wildly inaccurate picture of what senior citizens are really facing, its critics assert, because it does not truly account for the real increase of costs for older people. For instance, older people use much more medical care than most younger human beings—and the cost of medical care has increased by 4.4% in the latest CPI rating, according to the CNN report.

Most seniors no longer pay income taxes in the U.S., and fall in what  Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney described in his now famous “47% speech” at a Republican fundraiser in the U.S. on May 17. Here is what Mr. Romney said:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That’s an entitlement. The government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…

“These are people who pay no income tax…My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5-10% in the center that are independants, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending upon in some cases emotion, whether they like the guy or not.”

Mr. Romney, asked about his remarks immediately after a video of them became public, defended his observation vigorously, although he allowed as to how he stated them inelegantly. Two weeks later, he had changed his mind, saying that he was “completely wrong” in his comments. American voters were left to decide if this was simply an effort to regain votes he may have lost as a result of his earlier remarks and his defense of them.

The larger question that Mr. Romney’s 47% Speech raises is this: Just what “entitlement” does humanity’s older population have a “right” to claim? Most cannot continue working, and thus producing their own income. Nor should they have to. Fifty-five years or more of “contributing to society” should be sufficient to earn them some time of rest toward the end of their lives if they desire it, no? And who says that a person who is retired is somehow a “non-contributing” member of our society? Must we work—even if we are healthy enough to do so—until we are 80 in order to be considered to be “contributing” to the whole?

One point of view about older people is that their own family members should take care of them, not a government which taxes the income of all of its younger, wage-earning people in order to do so. Another point of view is that the entirety of young humans should take care of the entirety of older humans, as two groups whose lives are intrinsically intertwined.

Within the understandings and the messages of The New Spirituality there is no question on this issue. The primary message of Conversations with God is stated in four words: We Are All One. Clearly, were humanity to adopt and embrace the concepts of CWG and The New Spirituality, there would be no discussion of how humanity as a whole would take care of those members within its species who could no longer take sole care of themselves.

Younger people would do so, and would do so gladly, considering it an honor—even if they had to sacrifice in order to do so. Indeed, especially if they had to sacrifice would they consider it a way of honoring Those Who Have Gone Before.

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  • Marko

    The further question is why do we feel that when one gets older you have to get sick & not work?

    Fulfilling work, whether part or full time can contribute greatly to senior health. In fact health can decline soon after they stop working. Yes I get that many can find plenty of leisure things to do if they have the finances & resources. My point? Continuous contributions to society don’t necessarily have to stop because of old age.

    Many very successful people work well into their 70’s & 80’s.

    Loneliness is a health stealer, so is couch potatoeing & social isolation mixed with a bitter attitude. Help in those areas are vital to regain their senior potential.

    Why would we continue to promote an old system of belief that it must be this way with older people?

    Why not consider the possibility that when one hits senior years what ever that is? Some say 55 is getting senior (ridiculous!) others 65 (silly) & maybe in the future our standard of living health wise will raise it to 75, & beyond, — that we consider their potential to contribute does not have to diminish to simply health issues.

    Current medical science will tell you that people can do well into their late 70’s & it’s the 80’s or mid 80’s where health starts to decline most. Exceptions abound of course.

    And for health & health care, how about health care “prevention” on top of the list to avoid many unnecessary pitfalls?

    While we certainly want to take care of our seniors in their golden years in what ever way we decide as a society,– why do we even not want to consider instead of putting them in nursing homes, hospitals & rest homes that we work & play toward a society where being old does not mean being inactive & non contributing to society?

    Their wisdom & experience should be utilized as teachers & wisdom keepers & bring respect & honor to them rather than sick people that drain the health care system.

    Their experience should be used to great honor, respect & maintaining a better standard of living for all of us. They may do less physical work, but my guess is,many even most, desire work & leisure as part of their golden years. They are the vast untapped resource of wisdom, teaching & examples of good living.

    In a more advanced society we take care of everybody & yes, enjoy doing so. Yet I think we limit their entitlement if you will to good living by the collective limitations & stereotypes we continually place & put on them.

    Not that we can change things over night, but at least start raising our attitudes about them.

    Smiles,
    -Marko

  • Ruchir Garg

    I myself don’t mind supporting others, including senior citizens, but it seems unfair to ask a young man of 20 who hardly makes a decent wage to give a substantial portion of his income so that an 80 year old person can get a very expensive treatment. What should be the cost of prolonging human life? And what quality of human life is worth prolonging?

    The issues are many: over-population, over-consumption, excessive cost of health care… Human beings are destroying life on earth. Why cling to life as an unhealthy unproductive person? If we (as a society) understood the eternity of life, we would only be too happy to go (and not fight with natural order) when we find ourselves far less than our very best.

    I have thought much about all the issues we face today locally and globally, and I think the best way forward now is in distributed living – small communities (say counties) taking care of themselves any way they see fit, with a small amount of taxes going to a central/federal govt. Citizens must participate in local governance, and must contribute to the community by way of money, labor, goods, or a combination thereof. In addition the use of natural resources – water, air, minerals – must have a *substantial* cost – which would cause the cost of goods to go up, thus reducing consumption. I have started writing down the ground rules. I am not looking to start a debate. I am only saying that we need an integral solution. The piecemeal legislation does not work.

  • Michael L

    Neale,

    Your using smoke, again.

    Within the dialog you have written on, taking care of old people, you throw in politics.
    Gov. Romney,

    “These are people who pay no income tax…My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the 5-10% in the center that are independents,”

    Old folks are on the right and the left, he was taking about the independents in the speech, covertly taped.

    Old folks have dignity, they don’t feel they are victims. And entitled to housing.

    Romney was referring to another part of the population.
    Which he later realized and apologized for being wrong in his sweeping statement.

    I want to Thank you for holding this space for us all to present another perceptive on the problem and to not just agree with your interpretation.

    Even though,the Beingness of, We Are One, is for all parts of the voting public.
    And taking care of our (all) older love ones is far more rewarding then letting the Government do it.
    Indigenous people have beautiful close knit communities as one big “group hug”. We may want to revisit their example.

  • Carol Skelton

    We are all one and there is enough for all of us if we only shared what we have a little more fairly. There is enough for all of us

  • Erin/IAm

    It cannot be only me who feels ‘funny’ about this year of elections…as if they are going on because ‘this is what we do’…kind of a disappointing disinterest that the outcome will be of little more than happenstance to no grander end, by less grander means.(?) Yet, the deeper feel is sparkling, somewhat exciting…There is ‘something’ afoot that is not quite in sight, but bubbling away under the stage…a ‘surprise’, perhaps? Something that even CNN has no clue of? We shall see…

    Old Folks, Seniors, Elders, Crones…I Am becoming one of these! (Actually, aren’t we all?) In smaller successful societies of humans I have observed that there are very few members who actually become ‘unproductive’ or ‘useless’…In fact, their previous contributions are greatly haled & acknowledged as keys to continued life…They are seen as a wealth of the community & cared for as such. They are the storytellers, the history keepers, the teachers of wisdom…Mirrors of what was, with reflections of what could be. I have also observed that these older kin welcome their passings to make room for new spirits to be born & grow of the brain & heart foods sowed for them, as their bodies are returned to feed the soils of which they came. This I See as respect…Respect of Life, Self, All. Earth’s Nature works much the same as this.

    Then we have the flip side…the not-so-successful society view. These deem ages of what a human can & cannot do…expectations & exceptions added to each ‘stage’ of their game. Seniors are ‘assisted’ thru their last moments, usually by strangers rather than family…their fears & anxieties quelled by drugs, with most of their simple enjoyments & comforts taken away in this process. The states of current affairs of humanity reflective in their loss of memories, their failing physicalities at earlier aging stages, the helpless & hopeless looks in their eyes. Dis-heart-ening, to say the least…Elders are no longer seen as wealths, but rather as drains, of these communities…How verrry sad, indeed.

    However! Between these two visions We See!(?) A. It is beneficial to Humanity to have access to well-ness & the education to create this for themselves…Not thru governance, but within community. B. Care of Elders is not to be solely measured by monetary contributions received during one’s work-time, but by the legacy left of one’s lifetime. C. It is wise to give Littles access & time with the Wise…to See & Be of their ‘ends’ so they can make the most of their own ‘middles’. D. Life using all of the aforementioned would be ‘a good thing’ for the Whole.

    To imagine there is a lack of means of creating the above would add to the grand illusion. To reduce this responsibility to a ‘law’ or a ‘policy’ simply leashes capability & stifles forward movement. mpo, of course.

    Good Journey to Those of Ages…the Littles, the Middles, & the Ends. May our lifetimes be seen as fields of good grains, may our transitions be celebrated with loving respect.:)

  • Pat

    When I think about this topic, I always harken back to a passage from “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein. “Mike” the “Man from Mars” has been raised in a different society and has come to earth and is trying to understand our society. He says at one point, “I couldn’t see why, if people were hungry, some of them didn’t volunteer to be butchered so that the rest could eat . . .”

    I hope I shall have the courage to prevent myself from being a drain on society when and if I get to that point where I am taking more than I am giving.