Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel’s as others see us! It wad frae monie a blunder free us, And foolish notion.
– Robert Burns, Scottish national poet, 1759-1796
As an essayist, I get a considerable amount of correspondence from people who read my many offerings, but rarely one offering as insightful as one I received recently from a Boston professor. He provided a look at “we geezers” through the eyes of the generations behind us.
By not revealing his identity, I’ll spare the good professor the agony of having to read through any tirades that may get fired in his direction by those who think “Seniors” need defending.
Personally, I don’t think seniors need defending, so this is not written in defense of my earlier essay. It is written simply to point out that we “Seniors” are a breed separate and apart from succeeding generations.
Let me use the professor’s interpretation of generations to set the stage:
- Seniors born between 1920 and 1945 of which there are currently 36 million in this country.
- Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 of which there are 78 million.
- Generation X born between 1965 and 1980 of which there are 46 million.
- Generation Y born between 1981 and 1999 of which there are 76 million.
I’ll temper my further remarks with one of my life observations: My father’s generation – often referred to as The Greatest Generation – looked at my generation in bewilderment – the same as I often look at my daughter’s generation. I have come to believe over the years that this is simply a generational misunderstanding of those who follow us that is built into the system.
Professor Boomer’s Reaction
My recent essay concerning whether I actually saved enough for retirement generated these remarks and observations from the good professor, who is a Baby Boomer:
Your article “Did You Save Enough” gives much great advice for seniors facing expense cuts, and for this, I do thank you. Unfortunately, this same article captures why so many young and middle-aged people of this land are so anti-senior these days and gives great validity to their feelings that they are being taken advantage of by the senior generations. Comments that you made below are inflammatory to those paying your true costs of living, and, at the very heart of the reasons why many of our young are calling for major cuts in ‘entitlements’ which translate to needy citizens (unlike yourself) losing the help they need to ‘make it through life with a little less misery’ which is very different than your situation where you “make it to the end comfortably.” I doubt that you define “comfortably” as an urban shoebox with one meal a day and no money for glasses, hearing aids, or dental work.
“In the three statements below we see the following senior entitlement attitudes that enrage younger generations. Perhaps since non-seniors also read your column, you could refrain from making such statements, as they only serve to confirm the selfishness of your generation and your entitlement attitudes:
Dave says: “I stashed little else away, preferring to spend it on doing things I enjoyed doing while I had the cash – and the health – to do it.” and “Did I save enough? At the time I set out my plan, I thought I would be able to. Today, thanks mainly to inflation. I missed the mark a bit. But I have a very short Bucket List thanks to my younger-age adventures.”
To these statements, the professor assigns this “Senior Attitude: Fly now and don’t worry about who pays later.”
And, he claims this is the “Young Attitude: Why should I pay for you when you wasted your money living it up? Now we’re building up debt to pay for you while I get to pay that debt off!”
Apparently, the generations behind us have never heard of “Save now and fly when you have enough to pay for it,” the system I used for my travels and adventures. Life for many seniors today has not been lived on the credit cards.
The good professor adds: “Dave says: Even with a bout with cancer and a lot of surgery and constant follow-up, I have not laid out more than $250 a month for medical care in the past year. That will drop to less than $100 a month early in 2012.”
To which he assigns the “Senior Attitude” of “I have the right to live as long as I can no matter who pays the costs – and if I can avoid paying my true medical costs, I will. Society should be willing to pay for me to live, no matter what the costs. I believe my life is that valuable, so should you, and you should be willing to pay for it!”
And, the “Young Attitude” of “You use far too much medical services and don’t pay your fair share, so why should I pay your bills. I’ve got my own bills.”
I, for one, never expected to live to be 75 years old, but now that I have, I use those medical services provided under the mandate of Medicare, as well as through the Veterans Administration that provides additional health care due to the fact that I prepaid them by serving my time in the military of this country just as I paid – from Day 1 – into the Medicare system when it was established in the 1960s.
The good professor next brings up: “Dave Says: So, maybe I didn’t save enough by a lot of people’s standards, but I’m going to make it comfortably to the end.”
To this he assigns the “Senior Attitude” of “Don’t worry about saving enough, somebody else will pay for your comfort.
And the “Young Attitude” of “You do not deserve, nor have you earned, the comfort you’re getting. You tell us to live within our means but you’re not doing the same. You use the system to capture my wealth to pay for your needs. I have to live uncomfortably and get so much taken from my paycheck that I can’t afford a house – but you get to live in comfort.”
Seniors have pre-paid for their benefits
Most seniors today were born in or at the end of The Great Depression when the government decided to establish a safety net for elder care called Social Security, or more properly The Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Program. We have paid into it most of our lives, the same as one would invest in any retirement program. Many of us have paid the maximum required each year. Some of us have added to these benefits by investing in additional annuities to supplement our Social Security.
Consequently, I do live comfortably, not luxuriously, in retirement and I do not consider the benefits I have accumulated as “entitlements.” They were simply investments into the systems mandated by the government under which I have lived.
In addition, like many of my senior compatriots, I never expected to start out in life at the level at which my parents were when I reached the age of majority. It was my responsibility to learn a trade or profession and pursue it to pay my own way. And, if I could not find employment in my chosen field it was my responsibility to find any type of employment, including creating my own through entrepreneurship, to pay my own way in life.
If “Seniors” need any defending it is in the fact that those generations that have followed do not clearly understand the world in which we have lived much the same as we do not understand the world in which they find themselves.
The long and the short of it is this: Living requires the assumption of personal responsibility for our lives and until one can absorb that thought, the finger-pointing and blame games will continue ad infinitum.
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