Cheese and wine are considered to have attained an extra degree of excellence once they are older. Added age means added value for a number of things, but not necessarily so for people. Antique furniture and automobiles, for example, are regarded as precious after a number of years. They are sought after and fought over at auctions. Yet human beings are often considered irrelevant once they achieve the status of “senior citizen.” Because senior citizens are routinely devalued we think nothing of stacking them up in tall buildings and warehousing them.
At a point in time when their vast knowledge and experience might be put to work helping to lift us all from dire circumstances, they have been consigned to what could be described as a wasteland; a place where politicians typically go to make sure that seniors remain happy campers ready to provide support in the next election. Leaders rarely visit seniors to seek their counsel on complex maters of policy but almost always seek them out for their votes. Those votes are lured with goodies of all sorts including food, trinkets and trips to Atlantic City. Seniors like to be courted in this manner but many also want to be respected for what they have contributed.
Some of our seniors have had incredible careers spanning a wide range of interests and expertise. All of them have had experiences from which valuable lessons can be learned. The priceless information hovering just beneath their gray and balding domes is nothing short of “gemstone” quality. Many of the answers that we seek and guidance we need is but an elevator trip away. It is all deposited in our urban wastelands for which we do not have sufficient regard or respect.
Taking a skills/knowledge inventory of senior citizen buildings might offer a clue to the real value of the intellectual, social and cultural resources possessed by the occupants. Even a meager effort to engage that resource would likely reveal a surprising bevy of eager volunteers and recruits to assist with many of the current challenges that are too frequently left unmet. We are convinced that the solutions to many of our problems lie within the minds of the old folks that we routinely disregard—our senior population. A commitment to engage their thinking at more than a cursory social level could yield an abundant resource and offer fresh insight on nagging issues.
Constructively engaging our senior citizens can provide the young of our community an important historical connection that is often missing from their lives. They can answer questions and provide context for where we are now and how we got here. They can fill in the gaps that divide people and breed hostility and bring badly needed wisdom to the search for solutions. Unfortunately, much of our leadership ignores the potential of senior input and for too many seniors have they “thoroughly” retired. More than ever leadership needs the balance and maturity that our senior population can provide. In our environment where the social index is spiraling down ever more rapidly, continuing to ignore a huge available resource is not prudent—indeed, it is foolish.
In times of scarce resources, leaders must be creative in how they define, harness and utilize resources. And there are times when human resources are of equal or superior value to fiscal resources. Our senior population is deep and rich. In our view, keeping them off line in a struggle for our community’s survival makes no sense at all. Each of us can think of instances and circumstances where senior citizen input and involvement would provide added value.
Let’s take inventory and learn who’s who. Let’s identify and tap everyone who is willing to offer assistance and apply talents to the problems at hand. What could we possibly lose?
A respectful appeal to our senior population to lend their vast experience and expertise to help grapple with stubborn difficulties that threaten to hasten the unraveling of vital social and cultural institutions must be made at once. Less bingo and more deep thought would improve our collective condition.
Yes, we should take care of our seniors and provide them with a degree of pampering. But there is incalculable value in who they are and what they know—we all need that value now.
We propose a comprehensive senior citizen conference designed to elicit their best thinking based on their knowledge and experience. We believe that such an event, if well thought out and executed, would unleash vital resources not now readily available. We believe that what we now treat as “wastelands” is the fertile ground that requires only minor tilling to bear abundant fruit for our entire community. We humbly recommend a robust new approach, new respect and immediate engagement of one of our most valuable resources—experienced citizens.