Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
- Leo Tolstoy
Much as I would like to agree with Mr. Tolstoy, this observation is not so universally true today as it was in the past.
Many members of the Baby Boomer generation that made individuality more of a hallmark than any generation before them had ever done now want to change themselves to address a situation that no previous generation has experienced. They will live long past the traditional age of retirement, 65 years.
When Herr Bismark chose 65 as the age of retirement for the public service of Germany back in the 19th century, the average person didn't live 50 years. That was true well into the 20th century. Making some sort of provision for the few people that lived 65 years and beyond seemed a small price to pay.
Today the average person in the western world will live 80 years or more. In fact, within a few years there will be one million Americans 100 years old or greater.
That means that millions of Baby Boomers are looking at a minimum of 15 years of reasonably healthy life beyond their 65th brithday. Some will live 35 or 40 years past it. That requires some considerable planning.
The trouble is, humanity has no pattern to follow. Many will continue to work past age 65 because they need the income, while others will do so because they like what they have been doing and want to continue.
With more years to explore the individuality they sought so fervently in the 1960s, many open their own businesses. Being their own boss was always a goal for many of them. It's the great dream and countless numbers of them get an opportunity to fulfill that dream.
Volunteering takes up a great deal of time with today's retirees. Social programs for the elderly as well as mentoring programs and many other group activities that could not exist for seniors in the past due to insufficient funds can now be launched because retired people have time to invest time into them while not feeling the need to derive an income from them.
Many people approaching 65 still harbour the dream of their parents and grandparents, to become permanently on vacation from age 65 on. Sadly, most of them are unaware of studies that show that the average person who enjoys that "everlasting vacation" plan lives only six years past the date they begin. From age 65 on, atrophy sets in quickly.
Many retired people return to school, getting diplomas and degrees at an unprecedented rate. It has also become a time when people examine what they have accomplished during their lifetimes, consider what they hope to do with their remaining years and where religion and their beliefs fit into the grand scheme. These big questions can be serious problems because they don't necessarily know where to turn to find the answers.
An equally unprecendented number of retired people with many years ahead of them will live in pain and with severe disabilities, even bedridden. For some these will be the genetics of their families kicking in. For others--a great many others--the consequences of their abusing their bodies in their earlier years will play hard on them. Many diseases and physical afflictions take 20, 30 0r 40 years before they take hold as serious health problems.
Everyone among us has many spots within us that are technically known as pre-cancerous. In the past very few of these became malignant cancers because most people died before these pre-cancerous spots could mature. With more people living nine decades, more people will have time for the potential malignancies to mature.
In addition, diabetes will affect more and more people. Setting aside the rapid increase of diabetes cases among people who are younger at onset than in the past, everyone will get diabetes if they live long enough. It is estimated that even the healthiest among us will have diabetes if they live 140 years.
That's no joke. Many of today's children will live to be 125 to 140 years of age according to recent estimates among medical scientists who study such things.
That requires planning at a level that is unusual both for individuals and for national governments. We who are not into that retirement situation yet would be well advised to give thought to a long term plan for the years that our ancestors never got a chance to experience.
We need something worth living for.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to make the known problems of the future plain so that we can plan for them.
Learn more at http://billallin.com/