Help the inter-generational narrative on longevity.

Last week I was researching for a number of presentations, meetings and blog posts, contemplating the big picture of the social transformation we are experiencing, concerning aging demographics in a longevity society, within the context of other global economic and political issues. If we are going to get somewhere by improving social conditions for people of all ages, we have to elevate the perspective of this conversation, while at the same time make it practical.

One previous item that prompted this thinking was a comment made by Alexandre Kalache of the International Longevity Centre, where he spoke at a Sheridan College – Centre for Elder Research event in 2013. Paraphrasing, he said that in consideration of a world of increasingly extended lifetimes, we’ll need to pay attention to “developing a culture of care”. By culture of care, I also take this more broadly to mean not simply caregiving, home and health care, but also in the way we engage a conversation of care for how will behave inter-generationally in a longevity society.

While I was inside looking out on all this, polishing up the glass on the big picture, there came an unexpected toss of stones at the window, by way of a tired narrative exchange that all started with a lowbrow article in the Globe and Mail by Margaret Wente – Time to Soak the Seniors.  What a distraction. Normally I would have brushed it off as another one of those unhelpful disingenuous articles that looked like it was written on the back of a napkin without much depth of thought, which it is.

Then came the response from Isobel MacKenzie at the office of the Seniors Advocate in British Columbia. In the last paragraph here, the comment about the difficulty of having “a rational adult conversation” around issues of an aging population, (such as home and health care and pension policy), is spot on when as she says too, that articles like Wente’s only tend to “whip up generational warfare…”.

Well as if by some stroke of luck or irony, earlier last week before Maragaret Wente tossed her stones at my big picture, in the very same Globe and Mail out came Hazell McCallion, who now among other roles is Chancellor of Sheridan College based in Oakville, Ontario. Her article is titled Ageism is getting old. Let’s end It, and it is a strong advocacy piece for consulting with citizens on the longer continuum of older age about how they want to be considered in a longevity society.

At the same time, McCallion made a point that resonated with me when she said: “…it is important to stay engaged…pursuing personal interests and finding ways to contribute and interact with others, especially younger people.” Now there’s the way to start to nurture that conversation of care for how will should behave inter-generationally. It’s a good thing I read Hazel’s article after the other two because I needed to quickly return to my big picture of social transformation.

Without getting too highbrow, would it be too much to ask if we framed these conversations with more useful terms other than “generational warfare”. Maybe even, (if I may be as bold to suggest), that if we truly want to move the needle on the inter-generational engagement narrative, we might gain better traction by not leading the pitch for a proactive culture of care with the term ageism. As Hazel McCallion herself said, “…we need to change our thinking and change our language.”

Surely, we have enough trouble in the world with other “isms” right now.

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