Chapter 3: Old Age: A New Beginning
Something feels drastically wrong about the way society looks after - or fails to look after - the elderly.
You have spoken of the legalization of euthanasia for those who are so mentally or physically debilitated that they can hardly be said to be living at all. But what can be done for those who are not physically or mentally incapacitated, but are retired from their professions, and whose families have grown up?
In the past, families often felt obliged to have one or both parents live with them - often with disastrous results. Abuse of the elderly, called “granny-bashing” is an epidemic problem in America. Alternatively, the elderly are put into homes, where they are visited at weekends out of guilt and a sense of duty; or they are entirely neglected. The housing complexes provided for the elderly are often depressing and lonely, like a state of limbo between life and death.
It feels so ungracious and inhuman that society uses people and then casts them off into anonymity. Would you please comment?
The problem of the elderly has arisen because man is living longer than he used to live before.
All the old skeletons found in India, in China and other ancient countries prove one thing: that nobody used to live more than forty years, hence the problem of the elderly never arose in those societies.
It is because of this fact that the scriptures go on saying that in our country people never became old. It was not something great, it was simply that before old age they were dead. Death came before old age; now it comes after.
And as a country is more advanced, people are living longer - ninety years, a hundred years. In a few countries, there are thousands of people who have crossed the boundary line of one hundred and fifty. And in a few special places, because of their food, their climate and their genetics, a few people have reached the age of one hundred and eighty. And they are still young, they are working just like anybody else.
But the problem for the society is that employment is limited. The population growth is tremendous. New people are coming in such great numbers that we have to vacate places for them, we have to retire people. And as time passes, we will have to retire people even earlier than we are retiring them now. Now in a few countries it is sixty years, in a few countries fifty-five years, but soon this will not be possible. People will have to retire by the age of around forty-five - because the pressure of the new people coming will be so great that if you don’t give them opportunities they will create chaos.
But to retire somebody at the age of forty-five is dangerous, it creates many psychological problems.
First, a person needs some work, some creativity, to feel that he is needed. This is one of the most essential psychological needs of man - to be needed. The moment you feel you are no more needed, suddenly something starts dying within you, shrinking within you - as if the will to live has lost all its power, energy, hope. Tomorrow is nothing but darkness.
And the person who has become useless to the society - that’s what retirement is.. We make it as beautiful as we can by giving a beautiful pocket watch, celebrating it - it is just a cover-up. The reality is, we are throwing the person in the junkyard: “You are no longer needed, your work is finished. Now younger people, more educated, better educated, who know the latest scientific developments, are going to replace you. You are out of date.”
Suddenly, you have become a posthumous person.