• E - Entitlement

    E is for Entitlement

    In my previous professional life, I work for a multi-speciality medical group of considerable size.  The Psychiatry Department was lead by Gordon Livingston, MD.  Our paths crossed when serving on a committee together and I found this psychiatrist to be a wonderful individual - admired by peers and patients alike.  He espoused a common sense approach to mental health.  He suffered great losses in his personal life - but 'walked his own talk' through it all.

    He is the author of several small but powerful books filled with down to earth thoughts of the human condition and a level of compassion that is not often seen.  I highly recommend all his books.

    One book - Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty True Things You Need to Know Now - has a chapter called: The problems of the elderly are frequently serious but seldom interesting.

    That chapter begins with this statement:

    Old age is commonly seen as a time of entitlement.  After long years of working, the retiree is presumably entitled to leisure, social security and senior discounts.  Yet all of these prerogatives are poor compensation for the devalued status of the elderly.  The old are stigmatized as infirm in mind and body.  Apart from their continuing role as consumer, the idea that old people have anything useful to contribute to society is seldom entertained.

    He continues describing further extensions of his thoughts on this subject.  But my own thoughts got stuck on the word "entitlement."  Entitlement!  Yes, I do have feelings of entitlement now that I am retired.  But I hate that this word sounds somewhat self-centered and selfish.  Entitlement shouldn't feel that way.  In my mind it has elements of an earned benefit - like Social Security.  But said outside of this context, the word 'entitlement' is often used to describe individuals who think more of themselves than they should.  I really don't mean that at all.

    As an older citizen should I feel entitled? Used in the proper context - Yes!  I earned my years as an older citizen throughout life - education,  profession, raising a family, staying healthy, contributing to taxes and social security, preparing for my retirement.
    • Yes, I do feel entitled to at least the same respect, compassion and understanding as I had when I was 20 or 30 years younger.  Why should those basic considerations be ignored because one is older?  
    • Yes, I do feel devalued at times because I mark the box on forms that identifies me as "Retired" - not employed.  Why is aging and retirement not valued as the next stage of life that has been earned?
    • Yes, I do sometimes feel resentment for assumptions made about my aging ... when this just a natural stage of the human life span.  Why make any assumptions at all ... when the course of each creature's aging is determined by nature?
    Everyone ages and no living thing is designed to live forever.

    Our society elevates youth and does devalue elderly.  Take one tiny example I heard that illustrates preference for youth over age.  I met a woman recently who described herself as 80 years young - rather than 80 years old.  I have heard that before, and it is an in-thing to say to make advanced years seem less ... old, I guess. Maybe she was trying to say compared to her peers - she was more active and younger at heart.  Maybe she was saying she was as young as she was ever going to be.  But when I hear that phrase, '80 years young,' I hear the cultural bias come out.  Everyone wants to be described 'younger' (except for the very young).  The word 'old' is only positive if you are under 21 and you want to be 'older.'  Each birthday makes you better, more adult, more activities you can participate in, more of just everything.  Being 'older' is good then.

    Do I think that 'young' is a bad word to use?  Absolutely not, young is a good word, however, it is not the only good word.

    There are primitive societies in the world where the elderly are viewed with esteem and revered for their advanced age and wisdom.  Primitive societies - for God's sake!!

    As I warmed up to other arguments of that nature,  I paused ....

    My own frustration and anger seeped out of the print of this post.  I thought back over my own life - all of it - and admitted to myself that I was guilty of the same insensitivities and ignorance when I was younger.  I, too, valued youth over aging.  I didn't 'get-it' till I watch my mom struggle with aging issues - literally inside my own home - up close and personal.  Is it possible that our current society created this huge generational divide by separating the elderly from the family nucleus?  Maybe those primitive societies aren't so primitive - keeping their elderly inside the family circle rather than outside it.

    Maybe that is how the feelings of "entitlement" in the elderly are born.  Did our society create the emotion of entitlement as defense mechanism in the elderly because we devalued the standing of the elderly among us?

    I firmly believe that the elderly should not shy away from feelings of Entitlement.  Their rights as members of society have not diminished just because they are old and/or retired.

    It should be recognized that even the newest of human beings - if luck is with them - will be very old some day and carry in them the wisdom of all those years.

    I think we can ALL agree, 
    our world needs 
    much more wisdom today.

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