May 04, 2021

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United across the generational divide

What is a “seniors’ issue?”

You’ll see some obvious examples as you read today’s paper. The federal budget, for example, got some positive reaction for its initiatives on long-term care, housing, pensions, and veterans’ affairs.

The fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Society is of course relevant, as is health news—have a look at the local stories about the Bonnyville health Centre Auxiliary’s scholarships, or Hearts For Healthcare’s donation to Cold Lake Long-Term Care.

Our cover story may seem less obvious, but many readers will instantly recognize that older people are keenly interested in so-called “intergenerational” stories.

We may lament that schools aren’t giving kids a good grounding in the basics, yet here we are: a Grade 5 class in Glendon learning the lessons of finance and commerce by launching their own businesses. I think if we look at our schools we’ll find such positive and encouraging stories happening in almost every classroom, every day. 

If you’re a grandparent, it’s your own children—or others of their generation—who are the teachers, coaches, Scout leaders, and many other professionals and volunteers having a positive influence on young people. And it’s your grandkids, or even great-grandkids, who are engaged in the experiences of learning every day.

The world changes with every generation. Our world is different from our parents’ world, just as our kids and grandkids’ worlds are not the same as our own.

One thing that remains the same through the generations is that as kids grow up and become parents, they learn that Mom and Dad were right about a lot of things. And as grandparents, hopefully, we can take some satisfaction in seeing that our own kids are fine parents in their own right.

Ah, the circle of life: we are born, and as we progress through life’s stages we try to make a better world for those who follow us. We age and eventually we die, leaving the world to the new generations.

This is why we old folks have such a strong interest in youth. It’s also why young people need to spare a thought for older people.

Talking with Laura Tamblyn Watts for our federal budget story, we discussed the fact that everybody has known for decades that our society is not prepared for the numbers of people who will be retiring and growing old in the coming years. And one reason we’ve put it off is because we see ourselves as we are now, not as we will be.

We see young and middle-aged leaders creating policy for older people. Perhaps they think today’s 80-year-old will be 80 forever, and today’s 50-year-old politician or public servant will be 50 forever. (Someone is in for a shock.)

Intergenerational thinking means that old people can appreciate and identify with the experiences of young people. We are happy to see those students learning the facts of day-to-day life: money is important, value is important, fairness and fun are important.  

Equipped with knowledge and experience, these students will be well-positioned to make strong contributions to their communities. Some will become leaders.

And as they all do their part to make the world a little bit better, they will do well to look ahead. A better world, after all, is one in which everyone has a good chance to grow old. As they build communities that are friendly to people—all people—they will have a chance to create an environment where people can enjoy a long, constructive old age.

Young and old have a lot in common, after all. Old people used to be young; young people will someday be old. If elementary students grow up to become workers, managers, public servants, executives, or business owners, the “better world” they can build won’t be for today’s seniors—we’ll be long gone. It will be for themselves.

And I think we old folks sincerely wish that for them.