Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


598 Better or Worse

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

The older generation really messed up this world. When we get older. We will get some young people elected to office. We will make it a better world. Those were some of the thoughts I had when I first started to learn about how the world worked. I read about the world wars. I read about centuries of war, the caste system, slavery, poverty, concentration camps and nuclear bombs. I looked at pictures of the world leaders. Most were old white men. Why did they fail us? And then I remember thinking the world will be different when we grow up. We will change things. That was in the nineteen fifties.

Over sixty years have gone by and those old men seem to still be there. The pictures of world leaders never changes. Oh, we have a few women scattered in there now but women have been world leaders in the past on occasion. The men with bald heads or white hair, dressed in dark suits still sit in positions of power. Now they are of my generation. They were suppose to make the world a better place to live. What happened?

Is the world a better place to live than it was a few generations ago? The quick answer is “No, not in any way”. The list of our problems today seems endless. But we can't really have a valid answer to this questions unless we can compare the way it is to the way it was. How did we do?

Remember when the Dooms Day Clock that measures how close we are to nuclear destruction was set at 20 seconds. Then it went to a matter of minutes. At least it was there before Trump became our president. Now I think it has risen again up to two minutes. That is no small feat. We were on the verge of nuclear war. Children were taught to duck and cover. People built bomb shelters. No denying that nuclear war would have been catastrophic in a dimension like the world had never seen. Well, it never happened. Do we credit our generation with this accomplishment? Or do we ignore this achievement and consider only failure like global warming. I would just like to pause and enjoy the moment and the fact that nuclear war did not happen. Some generation should get credit. Some people are responsible. Perhaps we should declare an international holiday. We did good on that one – so far.

Of course we can claim other victories especially in the area of healthcare and technological innovations: fancy things ranging from penicillin to refrigerators let alone the computer stuff. I take one little pill each day and one B12 shot each month. Without either I would have died long ago. It is considered a small thing medically but yet without this “small thing” I would not be enjoying my retirement. Many of us live because of similar achievements. The list would be long.

Politically we can look to racial integration, women’s rights, and the world's concern with human rights. It would be nice to sit back and claim another holiday in recognition of the these rights being advanced to a stage their parents never dreamed. I know that we still have incredible problems and we have much farther to go but we have moved in a positive direction. When I went through high school there was no such thing as girl athletics. Imagine. No girls sports. Seems so cruel by today's standards.

I recall the day in the late sixties when a few high school girls wore pants rather than dresses or skirts to school. This was in Alaska and it was cold. They were taken from their classes; herded into a single room; a principle stood guard at the door. Parents were called and told to come and get their unruly child. The next day the students came again dressed in long pants. The school relented.

Speaking of schools and women, Sandra Day O’Connor an eventual Supreme Court Justice graduated near the top of her class at the Stanford Law School. The best job she could get when she graduated was as a legal secretary. Arguments were made; decisions were made not only in our justice system but our entire culture. Today women make up more than one-half of our law school graduates and three members the Supreme Court.

I remember childhood friends who were kept in hiding in their homes because they had disabilities. They did not swim in the local pool. They did not attend our public school. They were shut out of society. Families were ashamed. Then came the civil rights movement and inclusion of these people in our schools. Special education became the norm. How important is that. I can hardly imagine how much this has meant to millions of individuals. You know - real people with mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. People with lives to be lived. Did our leaders do something right?

In the early sixties Michael Harrington wrote a book about poverty, “The Other America”. The plight of the poor was exposed. The poverty program was soon launched. I recall organizing and launching the first Head Start Program in Buchanan County, Iowa in the summer of 1967. I asked school leaders and religious leaders of the few rural towns in the county for the names and addresses of the local impoverished. “There are none here”, was the unified response. “None in this town. It is a fine thing you are doing but we don't have any poor folks in this town”. Well, I kept looking with the aid of the county welfare director. We filled six classes the first day we opened. Kids with no teeth, open sores on their bodies, no shoes, malnourished, etc. The invisible poor were found. Programs were begun. The entire country started to recognize this need that had always been ignored. Once again, some people made some good decisions.

There are many examples of the way our world has changed. Indeed, many changes have been for the worse. We could make a long list if we were to try. But many changes have been very positive. The world is a better place in many ways.

I just came from a lunch with a small group of retired men. One is seriously considering moving to Canada is this next election if it doesn't roll out as he desires. “The country is just in shambles”, he says. “It has never been this bad”. It certainly does seem that way when one looks only at the present moment. But one has to look at more than the present day to see which way we are going.

One other way the world is better is that we live eleven years longer on average than we did in 1950. All the more time for retirement. I'm not sure if that is good or bad.

This is Retirement Talk.

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