Mark Twain

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Friday, April 5, 2019

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.


Leigh said...

Interesting post. I think that the generational divide on all levels is a product of our culture. It starts in infancy with daycare, age segregation in school, and continues on up to "homes" for the elderly. Our society is only the worse for it.

Retired Knitter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Retired Knitter said...

Good point, Leigh! I think the teen years are the exception. During the teen years there is a desire on the emerging adult to pull away from the last generation (the parent) to establish their own independence as adults (making EVERYONE'S lives perfectly miserable for a time.). I believe that divide is not based on society but on biology.

Susan Scott said...

I like the way you use entitlement - and I'm in agreement with all that you say in this regard eg having worked for it and entitled to the benefits of contributing to society.
It's unfortunate that one says 'you're only as old as ... ' or 80 years young' etc ..
Great post - enjoy your reFirement :)

Retired Knitter said...

Thanks, Susan. It is funny in a way, that this Challenge has given me the opportunity to explore some of my opinions about aging - that my caregiving posts "Through My Caregiver Eyes", never did. Those posts, of course, were created and published while I was in the middle of the caregiving role. That was over 4 years ago. Only now do I have a perspective on that whole 8 year chapter of my life - that has crystalized my flag waving for that segment of our society - the elderly. Of course, I am now among their ranks! So there is that! :-)

Marie Smith said...

I feel elderly stigma since I turned 65 late last year. The number has a negative connotation for me. I still feel like a young woman in many ways though.

Having worked to retirement I believe we are entitled to whatever benefits come our way. Enjoy,

Lael said...

Well said!

Sandy said...

Interesting perspective. I can't say I've ever felt de-valued as a senior; but can see why some would. Getting old is not for sissy's. Have heard that a time or two and it sure seems to be on the mark. As I see how hard it's been for my Dad, and frankly us because of his age.

Alana said...

This brings back a memory of before my late mother in law's dementia become noticeable - two of her sons and her one daughter would talk and she would try to say something but they would just ignore what she had to say and would just keep on going with their train of thoughts. I asked her once and she claimed it didn't bother her, that she just liked listening to the conversation but it made me wonder - as in, did they not value what she had to add. I am still working full time so "retirement" hasn't hit me yet. I do feel entitled - entitled to respect for me as a person. I will also add that I stopped dying my hair several years ago and it is interesting how people react to the grey-haired me vs. the colored hair me. It was eye opening.

Deborah Weber said...

What a thought-provoking post. Your perspective about the term entitlement has given me something to ponder today. I've just begun reading Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble by Stephen Jenkinson and I feel like I'm diving deeply into what it means to age in a society that worships youth.

Josna said...

Well said! I feel the same way you do about "entitlement. " Yes, we have worked to earn support for our new status. Soon after she retired, back in the 1990s, my mother joined a group called The Third Age, which suggest this idea that one's life after retirement is a new and productive stage of life--and yes, one which most people will experience for themselves before they know it. Thank you!

Josna said...

Well said! I feel the same way you do about "entitlement. " Yes, we have worked to earn support for our new status. Soon after she retired, back in the 1990s, my mother joined a group called The Third Age, which suggest this idea that one's life after retirement is a new and productive stage of life--and yes, one which most people will experience for themselves before they know it. Thank you!

Wendy said...

I think some people express their feeling of entitlement in a way that makes them seem selfish but I also think, certainly here in the UK, that the younger generation are having it harder in some ways. Up till now each generation has appeared to do better than their elders but that no longer holds true. With an aging population that will live longer and need more in the way of care it is perhaps understandable that some of the younger generation, who feel they are already worse off, do not like to feel they will have it harder to meet the "entitlement" of their elders. But I'm with you, just because we're getting older shouldn't mean we're treated with any less respect.

Retired Knitter said...

It is true here in the States as well - regarding how the generations always improved their standard of living until this most recent generation - who is struggling to do the same. It will be harder for our children - just because the baby boomer generation was so very large and because they have a better standard of health than previous generations.

Cat said...

I think that it's interesting, some friends always said old was ten years older than they were. Which just happened to be my parents age!

I do think "elderly" is as much a state of mind as a state of being. I still like some of the same things as I did in high school. However, I like things that I just now have access to, for example, blogging, and texting.

But, when I see what is advertised to "my age", diapers, walkers, oxygen supplies... Yeesh! I realize I am probably not the demographic for a lot of things, but would it kill the advertisers to realize I could do with a good cereal ad, or vacation in Alaska? Or even Laundry soap... Just ease off with the "decrepit oldster" mindset. Sheesh. sorry, off the soap box...