I have always believed that a significant portion of the newly-aging 60-somethings (formerly known as baby-boomers) felt called upon to –finally – make a real difference in the world in this third third of their lives.
I have read tomes, in fact, that suggest in the strongest of all possible terms that our choices over the course of the next three decades will determine for good or bad the state of the world we leave behind for future generations. Marc Freedman says so in *Encore: Finding Work That Matters In the Second Half of Life* . Ken Dychtwald says so in *With Purpose, Going from Success to Significance in Work and Life. * And a group called [Civic Ventures] believes it’s so important that outstanding individuals over 60 who are involved in “significant social innovation” and “accomplishing work of great importance” are awarded its annual $100,000 and $10,000 Purpose Prizes.
It seems as if we are, as a generation, being called upon to re-channel the political energy and power we discovered in the 1960’s (cf., Eugene McCarrthy), Obama-style, to effect economic, environmental, energy, and health care policies in this country and social justice here and abroad. And we have heard said appeal to our more altruistic selves as, well, appealing, almost romantic.
But when David Brooks made our options very real in his February 2, 2010 column [*The Geezers’Crusade*] , it was neither appealing nor romantic. It was, in fact, a rather ugly come-to-Jesus moment about what kind of power we may actually have and our willingness to use it, in Brooks’ word, *unselfishly.* (We are, lest we forget, not only baby-boomers, but still the “Me Generation,” as well.)
Using recent discoveries about brain science and a grandparent’s instinctive impulse to provide unstinting love and support to grandchildren, Brooks calls upon our generation to reverse the flow of public love and support, i.e. government funding, to shift the economic imbalance (The Brookings Institutions says government spending runs $7 to $1, Old versus Young) from programs serving the aging and aged (Medicare, Social Security, and tax policy) to those serving the young (education, health care). He suggests we coalesce as a political force – indeed, one that has grown beyond the reach of politics – to raise the retirement age, reform health care expectations and practices, and shift tax policy. He wants us not only to vote against our self interest and generational entitlements, but to shape a *Movement* around such ideas, to create the *Cause* of Unselfishness.
It is clear that generosity is a touchstone of the third third, and that many of us are willing to give of the extra time, energy and resources we have realized by coming of (old) age in the 21st century to others in many meaningful ways. Our vast potential as volunteers is still largely untapped, but we are willing workers and derive profound satisfaction from “doing good” in schools and soup kitchens and health clinics and in the Peace Corps. We can afford to be generous. But can we afford to be unselfish? This we don’t know. We have been active participants the prevailing culture of success-followed-by-greed; is it possible to revolutionize our expectations now, even if we frame it as a campaign “for the good of future generations?”
I don’t know. But I’d love to hear some talk about it. Please comment below.
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