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Monday, September 20, 2010

Continuing Social Interests into Retirement

Since my days as a graduate student, I have been involved in social activities. After finishing my master’s degree, in order to continue my education I moved to Detroit Michigan where earned a PhD. I also joined the civil rights movement.  Many of my fellow activists were Baby Boomers who are now approaching their retirement years.
An important factor for our satisfactory adjustment is the development of wisdom. According to the Max Plank Institute, unlike relatively simple intelligence, wisdom reflects understanding and making decisions about uncertain matters in life, which frequently involves social relationships. 
In a book entitled Wisdom, Wille Nelson, an American musician and community activist who is now 76-years-old, says to act wisely we must “Be here. Be present. Wherever we are, be there.”  
Now, as the Boomers approach their lives as seniors, the rest of society seems to be frightened by their numbers and the effects of an “Aging Society”. The formal term used is “Apocalyptic Demography”
It is important for us all, and particularly those of us who are senior citizens, to take good look at our lives and community expectations. We can ask ourselves about the social relationships that we continue to experience as seniors and about new ones we can develop.
Aside from having close friends and extended family, many seniors continue to contribute to society through volunteer work, care giving and civic activities.  On a wider scale the World Health Organization refers to our social involvement as “active aging.”
Until recently, British Columbia maintained mandatory retirement, which basically asserted that after 65 employees were less valuable to society. Many of those forced into retirement took the lesson to heart. They began to see themselves less competent, developed lower self-esteem and negative self-stereotypes.  
On the other hand a good example of senior’s social relationships, active aging and social interest is expressed through volunteering.  It has been reported that in recent years three million Canadian retirees spent five billion hours each year on productive activities (paid and volunteer), which represents a contribution to the Canadian economy of about $60 billion dollars. Millions of older people continue the break the stereotype of uselessness and are vital members of their community and society as a whole.
As I approach retirement next year my social interest also continues to grow.  I am on the board of the Langley Seniors Resource Society; the co-founder of ICAL, the Intergenerational Centre for Action Learning, a not for profit, and a co-owner of a private company BC Community Building: Research and Action. If you would like to know more you can check our websites at ICAL.Ca, and


  1. Interesting thoughts. Your point on how the younger cohorts of society see us as a burden is well presented, but I wonder about the genesis of the idea.

    It seems somehow ironic that our (I am a senior too) generation is the one which denigrated tradition and respect for elders, and promoted immediate gratification as a panacea. It would appear that those ideas are coming home to roost.

    If we are to counter this wave of resentment and dismissiveness we will have to come up with an argument for why our lifelong mantra should now be rejected.

    Should be an interesting process.

  2. Hi Jebediah
    I hear what you are saying. It would seem that we are experiencing Karma. And it's important to acknowledge the roles we have played. While this may be a long range consequence of previous behaviour and attitudes, I think there is also a social class factor which we struggled against then as well.
    There is no doubt that the culture is oriented toward youthfulness and aged people are generally not held in high regard.
    Older people's retirement is coupled with the assumption that we no longer have anything to contribute and the political/economic system uses this to accuse seniors draining the system; not even counting our contributions of millions of dollars in volunteer work.
    We have a lot of knowledge and experience that could be helpful if the playing field was more balanced. Do you have any specific ideas of what we could do?