Celebrating the older but wiser ones among us

Posted on 06. Apr, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

Soon New Mexico will choose its first female Governor, and while I applaud that, I want to make sure that while she’s busy setting up the ‘old girls network’ she doesn’t forget about the ‘old boys’ who supported her. That’s one of the reasons I formed the ‘Mansa Society’ (see the last paragraph), but it’s not the principal reason. Truth is, I was starting to feel slightly irrelevant and needed some way to stay in the game. Several of my friends have started weblogs (‘blogs’), internet-based places where they can state their views and let others counter with their own opinions. Terrific empowerment for older, retired people and a lot better than many pastimes normally associated with our ‘seniors’ (I hate that word because it conjures up a group of venerable but not really venerated old people who are terrible drivers, bad dressers and who’ve lost their marbles somewhere and don’t even remember why they’re looking for them). Be that as it may, we’re stuck with ‘seniors’ (the word), so let’s use it, but redefine it:

Sen ior: noun – an older person who has lived life to the fullest, learned from it and is ready to use that knowledge as an important resource for his/her community and country; adjective – describing a person that is older and wiser and deserving of respect and admiration for surviving what life has thrown at them.

At last count, approx. 25% of America’s population was over the age of 55. That’s 75 million people; a pretty sizable figure for any nation. Many of those folks are either unemployed or retired, and I suspect that many of them are feeling displaced – as they no longer have the money, power or influence of their youth. But to call them powerless would be to ignore two important assets they possess: life experience and time. Over the decades we’ve seen senior groups rise to prominence. Among them was the quasi-political group, the Gray Panthers in the 70s. We’ve seen seniors as voting blocks in places like Florida for many years. The AARP has also become more vocal in its political support – not just for issues – but for candidates. (This actually caused me to drop my membership, disappointed that AARP had more than a ‘senior moment’ when it went ‘rogue’ on those of us who don’t want politics, everywhere.)

Retired executives have been mentoring younger execs for a long time via ‘SCORE,’ and doing some great work along the way. In New Mexico, we have perhaps more non-profit organizations per capita than any other state, and many of the more active ones owe their activity to retiree volunteers. New Mexico’s population growth in the over-55 age group has been tracking slightly ahead of the national average, so there is reason to believe that about 500,000 people fall into that category here.

What are all these people doing?

Many of these seniors are ‘living the good life’ with steady pensions and retirement income, but another group is just getting by as the cost of everything increases, steadily chipping away at their nest eggs. From healthcare to transportation to food, this group is the least capable of paying the price but is doing so, often at the expense of other things. We all heard the horror stories of seniors eating dog food some years back because they couldn’t afford both medicine and food. I fear we’re headed down that road again. That’s why we need to re-energize these 75 million people and bring them back inside the tent where their voices can be heard and their experience and vitality can be brought to bear.

Recently, while chewing the fat with a few of my male friends about the economy and politics, I blurted out my newest brainstorm, the ‘Mansa Society.’ I told them that I wanted to formalize our man-togethers and create chapters all across the world (I go in for the cowboy maxim of ‘aim high, but shoot low’). I said that we cannot move forward if we don’t move the retirees off the sofa, so I wrote a charter, registered a website, and made a t-shirt. We fully expect to change the world, one codger at a time. Our credo is patterned on old west wisdom, a combination of Davy Crockett (‘be sure you’re right and then go ahead’) and Gabby Hayes, the first and perhaps cleverest cowboy sidekick to realize that he could get ahead by following – in this case, a younger man, Roy Rogers.

Stephan Helgesen is former Director of the Office of Science and Technology for the State of New Mexico and retired U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officer who served in twenty foreign countries. He is CEO of 2nd Opinion Marketing, an international high-technology consultancy company.

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