Successful Aging: Do you want to live forever? Here’s one man’s plan for it
The topic “How to Live Forever” sounds enticing; that is, if you want to live forever.
I must admit that when I initially heard of this book written by Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of Encore.org, I assumed he was referring to new discoveries about nutrition, exercise and purpose as the magic bullets to that extra-long life. I was wrong. The subtitle of the book, “The Power of Connecting the Generations” (PublicAffairs, 2018), tells the story.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Freedman on this topic. It was the featured event sponsored by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Village for its fourth annual Upside of Aging forum at the Palos Verdes Golf Club.
Living forever focuses on one’s legacy: our generation making a difference in the lives of younger people.
That seems logical and shared value, but Freedman pointed out that instead of connecting generations, our society separates them.
He referred to age segregation, which started in the 20th century, a time when we were the most age-integrated society in the world. Birthdays weren’t even celebrated. The “Happy Birthday” song wasn’t copywritten until the 1930s. It was a period of time of multi-generational households with our lives woven together.
We ended the 20th century as one of the most age-segregated societies; Freedman calls it the period of “age apartheid.” The change was progressive with breakthroughs in Social Security, child labor laws, senior centers, retirement communities and more. Today, think about environments with inadvertent age segregation: the workplace — particularly high-tech companies — higher education and senior living communities, to name a few.
Freedman shared when it all began in housing. It was 1956 when the first seniors-only community opened in Youngstown, Ohio. The founder, Ben Schleifer, did not dislike children. The reason was economic. Children brought taxes to pay for schools. The founder wanted to ensure its policies were very specific: no kids. Freedman related the story of Youngstown, generating headlines in its effort to drive out an older couple accused of harboring their grandson. The youth in question needed asylum from an abusive step-father and had no place to turn. An embarrassing sign was placed on the older couple’s lawn indicating their violation of the rule.
Evidence from anthropology and developmental psychology indicates that the old and young are built for each other. Freedman emphasized that the old need to be needed; the young have a need to be nurtured. He noted, “older people are at the top of their game for empathy and emotional skills. We need to think of ourselves as mentors.”
Research studies indicate that the presence of a caring adult is the most important factor in a child’s life. “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about them,” says Freedman.
The mature generation are natural mentors. And here’s Freedman’s advice on how to be effective: The top of the list is being a good listener, the bottom is giving advice. In his book, Freedman referenced the advice of John Gardner, civic leader, author and founder of Common Cause: “It is easy and seductive to be interesting; it is harder and more worthwhile to be interested.”
One may wonder why we should care about the younger generation? Freedman shared the story of “The Acorn,” which comes from the Talmud. A rabbi passes through a field and notices an old man planting an acorn. The rabbi asks, “Why are you planting an acorn? You surely don’t expect to live long enough to see it grow into an oak tree.” The man responded, “My ancestors planted seeds so I might enjoy the shade of the fruit trees. I do likewise for those who come after me.” In a similar vein, the Greeks wrote, “Society grows great when older people plant trees under whose shade they shall never sit.”
It is our role and opportunity to plant those trees. Freedman’s message is clear. “The real fountain of youth is the fountain with youth; the only way to live forever is to live together.”
A national initiative launched by Freedman called Gen2Gen gives us a framework and organization to make those intergenerational connections happen. It calls for mobilizing one million adults 50+ to help young people thrive. Go to iamgen2gen.org for more information.
Here’s the homework: How can each of us enhance connections with young people to help them thrive while helping us to live forever? Think about family, schools, organizations and exploring Gen2Gen. Be creative…and live forever.