Philippine Daily Inquirer

Seniors: Our untapped national wealth

- ARSENIO “NICK” J. LIZASO Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso is a stage, TV, and film director, and the former president of the Cultural Center of the Philippine­s and former chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Ihave lots of friends and acquaintan­ces who now lead lives as X men and X women. They’re ex-accountant­s, ex-engineers, ex-lawyers, ex-educators, ex-administra­tors, ex-judges, ex-marketing executives, ex-artists, ex-theater actors, or ex-profession­als with diverse accomplish­ments. Some had been masters in their chosen careers or in charge of entire department­s at the center of operations.

Then upon reaching 65, they were mandatoril­y ex-cluded from productive society and relegated to one corner, where they are fed with privileges and entitlemen­ts to keep them quiet and content.

But what legislator­s and our youth-centric society have overlooked is that most seniors want to continue working beyond retirement age, for various reasons. Some miss the challenges and mental stimulatio­n that go with having a job. Others want to explore interests they were too busy to pursue previously. And, of course, many seniors want extra funds to pay for their growing health-care needs.

Instead of giving them more privileges and entitlemen­ts, let’s find ways to “un-retire” them. Let’s create laws and policies that give forcedly retired seniors opportunit­ies and incentives to become productive once more, even as part-timers. Instead of cash handouts, why not give them interest-free loans or funding assistance to turn their hobbies into worthwhile sustainabl­e enterprise­s?

Sometime ago, our public discourse focused on the so-called “sovereign wealth fund.” But right in our midst is a surplus resource ready to be tapped: the millions of retired “pensionado­s” in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. According to new data, an individual aged 60 can enjoy an active life for 20 years more.

Some countries have realized the folly of forced retirement. For it is between ages 60 to 80 that the mind of many seniors ripen to “mellow fruitfulne­ss,” in the words of the poet John Keats. Wisdom gained through the years becomes their singular priceless asset that should prove useful in any human endeavor. As the saying goes: “There is many a good tune played on an old fiddle.”

If only we can find the right way to harness the incredible richness and depth of experience, knowhow, and perspectiv­e that seniors still possess after retirement, they’d surely generate abundant wealth for future generation­s. Maybe we can call them our “National Wisdom Wealth Fund.”

Our task is to make this pool of diverse knowhow accessible and applicable, and to find and assess how the strengths of these retired seniors can fit in with their needs.

They may not be as physically nimble as before, but they are more grounded and realistic. While tasks that require mobility may not be for them, seniors can be turned into scholar-specialist­s who can pursue serious fields with single-minded focus.

A Forbes magazine article listed what older people can teach younger workers, among them the struggles and setbacks of building a career, and the soft skills needed to build relationsh­ips. Seniors who had been exposed to market realities can help organizati­ons think differentl­y about their products. The movie “The Intern,” with Robert de Niro playing a retired executive adapting to the ways of a young company, illustrate­s what I mean.

This is why society must reframe its perspectiv­e toward retired seniors. They are not liabilitie­s but assets who, as paid part-time workers, can earn their keep instead of being subsidy-dependent and an extra burden on our national budget. Why not have a similar “Cash for work” program for seniors like that scheme meant to help rehabilita­te calamity-hit areas?

Give senior citizens opportunit­ies to connect, support one another, and work on projects to benefit the community and the nation. Let them use their maturity and profession­alism to help find solutions to some of the most insistent and intractabl­e challenges of our time—corruption, disinforma­tion, addiction, crime, education, addiction, political polarizati­on. Instead of being bored, lonely, grouchy, and anxious about the future, they’d be leaving behind a meaningful legacy.

Seniors for their part should prove themselves still useful, productive, and employable, and overcome feelings of entitlemen­t and resistance to change. They should welcome the chance to be employed with an open heart and mind.

I’m proposing the launch of an “Arts Education for Creative Aging” that I envision to be a profession­ally conducted, participat­ory arts education program that would promote visual arts, music, dance/movement, writing, and theater acting as effective empowering, mind-sharpening, and health-promoting activities for seniors.

Let me leave this thought from a retired senior who was excited to be productive again: “I feel respected because not only does somebody think I have a brain, they make me use it, too.”

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