Sil­ver-ager and col­umn an­niver­sary

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Martin Henry

IT’S NICE to see the show of pub­lic sup­port for sil­ver­agers re­main­ing at work. I am now one. And didn’t even know that the term ‘sil­ver-ager’ ex­isted be­fore I read An­dre Poyser’s ar­ti­cle, ‘Sil­ver-agers ir­re­place­able in econ­omy’. Not that I’d mind re­tire­ment with pro­duc­tive al­ter­na­tives to a job. Like writ­ing full­time. Does any­one have an ir­re­sistible of­fer?

Part of what I have been do­ing with my time since youth is writ­ing this col­umn, which turns 29 this week. Al­most as old as my el­dest, who falls off the cal­en­dar at the end of to­mor­row.

The Gleaner ar­ti­cle on sil­ver­agers had its fo­cus on over-50s in the econ­omy, the usual. The vox pop peo­ple and two old men, Dr Hen­ley Mor­gan and Dr Leahcim Se­maj, sprang to the de­fence of older peo­ple re­main­ing at work as ‘in­dis­pens­able’ con­trib­u­tors to the labour force with their skills and ex­pe­ri­ence, ma­tu­rity, and dis­ci­pline.

But over-50s re­main­ing at work is re­ally a non-ar­gu­ment. For one thing, pop­u­la­tions are age­ing ev­ery­where as life ex­pectancy in­creases and fer­til­ity rates de­crease. If older peo­ple are yanked out of the work­force, en­tire economies will sim­ply col­lapse.

Then the young hot­heads who think re­tir­ing older peo­ple will leave more jobs avail­able for younger work­ers may be com­pletely un­aware that it is cur­rent work­ers’ con­tri­bu­tions that are re­ally pay­ing for the pen­sions of re­tirees.

And a global pen­sion cri­sis is brew­ing. Wal­ter Molano wrote about it a cou­ple of weeks ago (Oc­to­ber 14) in the Fi­nan­cial Gleaner in his col­umn, ‘The global pen­sion fund cri­sis’. “A series of con­verg­ing trends [is] threat­en­ing to cre­ate a cri­sis of epic pro­por­tions” for pen­sion schemes around the world. More re­tirees, longer life­spans, and weak in­ter­est re­turns on pen­sion-fund in­vest­ments are lead­ing to in­creased pay­out de­mands at the same time that in­vest­ment re­turns are de­clin­ing.


And just last week, this news­pa­per was en­quir­ing, ‘Whither the NIS?’ This as Par­lia­ment voted an amend­ment to the Na­tional In­sur­ance Act aimed at shoring up the Scheme, which pays piti­ful ben­e­fits and could go bank­rupt, on cur­rent trends, by 2033, a mere 17 years from now.

Stirred by the loom­ing threat, Govern­ment is mov­ing to in­cre­men­tally ex­tend the age of re­tire­ment for pub­lic sec­tor work­ers to 65 and to get public­sec­tor work­ers to con­trib­ute to their own pen­sion funds.

So more older peo­ple are go­ing to be around at work in the fu­ture. But peo­ple, young and old, are more than work­ers and con­sumers. They are peo­ple.

On the con­sump­tion side, older peo­ple are ac­tu­ally good for the econ­omy. Peo­ple gen­er­ally achieve their high­est in­come to­wards the end of their work­ing life. And whether they spend it or they save it for oth­ers to bor­row and spend, these higher in­comes are good for the econ­omy.

As a sil­ver-ager at a re­flec­tive stage of life, I am drawn back to con­sid­er­ing Erik Erik­son’s life stages, which I learned in psy­chol­ogy class for the post­grad­u­ate di­ploma in ed­u­ca­tion. The Ger­many-born Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist, who went on to live to 92, pro­posed that we all pass through eight life stages – if we live to grow old. In­flu­enced as he was by Freud, Erik­son saw each life stage marked by an iden­tity cri­sis.

Sil­ver-agers are run­ning across the last part of Erik­son’s Stage 7, the mid­dle-aged adult, and the first part of Stage 8 and last, the late adult. The defin­ing fea­tures: gen­er­a­tiv­ity vs self­ab­sorp­tion in­tegrity vs de­spair; care, pro­gress­ing to wis­dom. The pos­i­tive at­tributes very valu­able to so­ci­ety and to the work­place.

Ca­reer, work, and fam­ily are the most im­por­tant things at the mid­dle-aged adult stage. Mid­dle adult­hood is also the time when peo­ple take on greater re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and con­trol. For this stage, work­ing to es­tab­lish sta­bil­ity and Erik­son’s con­cept of ‘gen­er­a­tiv­ity’ – at­tempt­ing to pro­duce some­thing that makes a dif­fer­ence to so­ci­ety. In­ac­tiv­ity and mean­ing­less­ness are com­mon fears dur­ing this stage.

Some ma­jor life shifts also take place dur­ing this stage. For ex­am­ple, chil­dren leave the house­hold. Some peo­ple at this stage may strug­gle with find­ing pur­pose. Sig­nif­i­cant re­la­tion­ships are those within the fam­ily, work­place, lo­cal church, and other com­mu­ni­ties. The key iden­tity is­sue is, Can I make my life count?

The late adult stage in­volves much re­flec­tion. Some older peo­ple look back with a feel­ing of in­tegrity, con­tent­ment, and ful­fil­ment, hav­ing led a mean­ing­ful life and made valu­able con­tri­bu­tions to so­ci­ety. Oth­ers may de­velop a sense of de­spair dur­ing this stage, re­flect­ing upon their ex­pe­ri­ences and fail­ures. They may fear death as they strug­gle to find a pur­pose to their lives, won­der­ing, What was the point of life? Was it worth it? The key ques­tion for this re­flec­tion upon life lived is, Is it OK to have been me?

Erik Erik­son has got a lot of it right! Ear­lier this month, I at­tended the launch of philoso­pher Martin Schade’s book, In­car­na­tion: The Har­mony of One Love in the To­tal­ity of Re­al­ity, at the Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy. Schade may be a pro­fes­sional philoso­pher with a new idea, but all hu­mans, con­scious, ra­tio­nal, and re­flec­tive, are philoso­phers. We re­flect upon and must make de­ci­sions about mean­ing and pur­pose and be­ing (meta­physics). We think about the ‘ought’ in our con­duct and re­la­tion­ships (ethics,

although we don’t al­ways do it. And, even fleet­ingly, we con­sider what we know and how we come to know it and how re­li­able it is (epis­te­mol­ogy).


Erik­son’s thoughts about hu­man de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­ogy see us all as ma­tur­ing philoso­phers meet­ing and deal­ing with crises of iden­tity.

This col­umn has trav­elled with me through most of my adult life. Only my fam­ily, my church, and a hand­ful of friend­ships have been around longer con­tin­u­ally.

On the oc­ca­sion of be­ing se­lected for the Mor­ris Cargill Award for Opin­ion Jour­nal­ism six years ago in 2010, I did some se­ri­ous re­flec­tion on what the Martin Henry col­umn was about. Descartes fa­mously de­clared, “I think, there­fore I am.” I think, too, deeply, but must add, I write, there­fore I am.” The col­umn has been rooted in philo­soph­i­cal re­flec­tion about nearly ev­ery­thing. And it pleases me no end when read­ers recog­nise and ac­knowl­edge its philo­soph­i­cal ground­ing.

Editor Dud­ley Stokes plucked a dozen of us off the streets, mostly young peo­ple, by ad­ver­tise­ment, not per­sonal in­vi­ta­tion, to write news­pa­per col­umns along­side the greats like Mor­ris Cargill, John Hearne, and Dawn Ritch. I am for­ever grate­ful. And Stokes, gone to his rest at the ten­der age of 73, is in my Hall of Per­sonal High-Im­pact In­flu­encers.

Tech­nol­ogy is busily cre­at­ing a new world. Faster than many sil­ver-agers can keep up with. Although ev­ery­one is fac­ing the cri­sis of adap­ta­tion which Alvin Tof­fler pre­dicted in Fu­ture Shock, his book, which I re­viewed for Use of English as a univer­sity fresh­man in the late ‘70s. But as his­tory, phi­los­o­phy, the­ol­ogy, and literature teach those willing to learn, the fun­da­men­tal hu­man con­di­tion and con­cerns are con­stants in change.



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