Having spent the last few weeks dwelling on my own “I REMEMBER” past, it was a bit surprising to find my thoughts turning to the future…..looking ahead to a hazy, but unsettling vision of what might be.
Turns out that some things don’t change much over time. When I first posted this piece in 2018 it made sense to me. Revisiting it again, I’m thinking it sounds even more sensible.
Where to begin?
Truth to tell, there are so many things that need explaining. Let me start with a ‘little’ mystery……something that needs explaining, at least for me. Such as, do the endless pharmaceutical commercials that dot the nightly newscast bother you as much as they do me?
They seem to follow a common formula……smiling faces of folks made well by some medicine with a phony, nonsensical name are parading around while the fine print at the bottom of the screen recites all the ways that wonder drug may harm or maim me, all the reasons I ought not use it. Most aggravating of all, they carry on without ever telling me what ailment their medicine treats. Small wonder those ads get muted in our house.
So why, you might ask, have I offered that bit of whimsey as an introduction to the following sad lament? I’m not sure I know.
Do warts really worry?
Did it ever happen to you? Did your mother ever look across the dining table into your eyes, with an admonition that sounded something like this? “Don’t be such a worry wart, son. It can’t be as bad as that.”
A ‘worry wart?’ Now there is a term you don’t hear much anymore, at least not in my circles. But there was a time, perhaps before ‘The Power of Positive Thinking,’ when it was a not-uncommon label for those who raised their concerns, especially unpopular ones.
So here is today’s question, the one I am asking you to consider…….is this Stewart fellow a worry wart? Does he have any reason to be concerned about what he sees ahead? Please read on, and tell me what you think.
Signs of trouble in Late-Life land
Perhaps you have heard rumors that all is not well in today’s senior world. An endless stream of dire accounts and daunting predictions keeps reminding us how many of our October/November peers are ill prepared for retirement, or late-life in any form.
The equivalent of whole forests have given their lives to produce the newspapers, magazines, and books making that point. And odds are that depressing onslaught will continue as the unsettling tide of financial reality becomes more apparent, and the fiscal noose continues to tighten.
To be sure, if you are one of those caught in that tightening noose you know how real it can be, because it is happening to you. After all, our own reality is the most real of all. We understand that truth, don’t we? So what is it that awaits us around the next corner or two?
Who will pay the price?
The questions facing the next generation or two are indeed formidable. Is Social Security really a ‘forever’ program? What about Medicare? Will affordable health care be available ten, twenty, or thirty years from now? Or what about the long-term impact of student debt? Will those underemployed graduates ever get beyond that?
Then, as you look ahead to that future, consider this. The tightening noose facing today’s “Greatest Generation” may well look like the ‘good old days’ to a significant portion of the Greatest Generation Plus One. And if that is true, what about Greatest Generation PlusTwo……our grandchildren. After all, they are the ones who will be asked to pay the bill we have left for them.
How did we get here?
But before we turn our attention to those we care about the most, let’s take a moment to visit some of the reasons we stand at the edge of what might be a steep and slippery slope. I would submit that a lifetime of cultural potty training, in the form of schooling, television advertising, movies, books, social media, etc., has enshrined and empowered the supposed virtues of material success, status, and the accumulation of ‘stuff and things.’
Not just any ‘stuff and things,’ but the right sort of stuff......the stuff so prominently affirmed in glossy TV ads and accepted by our peers as desirable.
Too many of us have spent too much of our life worshipping what we called success as the primary measure of our efforts. We know how easy it is to become addicted to the ‘feel-good’ rush of the Divine Dollar Sign smiling in our direction, validating our efforts and confirming our worthiness. Of course, when the dollars and status fail to flow our way that same commitment to material rewards can be enough to lay us low.
To be sure, for as long as there have been sellers and buyers, sellers have wanted to sell more, and buyers have wanted to buy more. There is nothing new about that. What is perhaps new, however, are the pervasive forces that feed the blatantly materialistic culture we have seen evolve in the course of our postwar lifetime.
They learned from us
Truth is, an era of unrivaled prosperity……in the form of growing income, burgeoning credit-card balances, easy-to-qualify mortgages, inflated home values, and generous pensions……has enabled us to dream dreams no earlier generation had ever dared to dream. In the process we have taught our our offspring, consciously or not, to dream those same dreams.
Unfortunately, the historically unique times that allowed so many of our dreams to come true may not be found in the world our loved ones inherit. For too many of them the world will be a harder place to grow the dreams they learned from us. In that case they may have to settle for more modest, more achievable dreams.
Will they be willing to settle for those ‘more achievable dreams’? I hope so, but I am not overly confident. So much depends on the path our nation, and the world, follows in the years ahead. Given today’s political climate who would pretend to know what lies ahead?
How can they be ready?
We were raised to believe that things are always improving, that the years ahead will be better than those we have lived through. We call that progress. It turns out, however, that progress is not a given.
The best advice I can offer my own children harks back to my long-ago Boy Scout days. “Be prepared.” Create a lifestyle that has you living within your means, setting more than a ‘little something’ aside, and relying on as few ‘safety net’ resources as possible.
In my humble opinion the odds of taxpayers and governments, from municipal to federal levels, continuing to fund what politicians call “entitlements” over the long haul, especially at today’s levels, is very iffy. Any future that includes substantial numbers of tomorrow’s late-life population depending on Social Security, Medicare, and other government programs is apt to produce a disappointing outcome.
The case for caution
Hopefully those of us who have already made it to October and beyond have outgrown the need for all that ‘stuff and things.’ We are likely to understand the advantages of creating a ‘cautious’ lifestyle, preparing for an uncertain future.
Fact is, those lessons are best learned early, when the student has time on his or her side. Still, as convinced as I am of the need for caution, I realize how much easier it is for an elder fossil like me to accept that logic……compared to a starry-eyed twenty-five year old, whose weekly mail includes half a dozen credit-card offers.
In all likelihood most members of the next generation, our children, will emerge intact, if not victorious, from the challenging life-maze that awaits them. But what about their babies, our grandchildren? I fear it will be a harsher and more traumatic journey for them.
They’ll have to find out for themselves
It seems that life’s lessons must be lived to be learned. I suppose it’s always been that way. We may wish that our hard-won elder wisdom was easily transferable to those who come behind us. But alas, there are inconvenient laws of nature at work……laws which are rarely rescinded.
We can share our concerns and self-proclaimed wisdom, but it is left to those younger generations to accept it, if they will, and put it into action. Here’s hoping they can pull that off.
Those of us who make up today’s October/November population will find a way to muddle through to our natural end……some quite elegantly, others on a more modest scale. Our trek to the future will not be easy, especially if at some point we are forced to travel alone, without the helpmate who has blessed our life for so long.
Still, as you can tell, my anxiety is stoked by what I see ahead, the challenging future that awaits the next generations, and the impact that future will have on the ones you and I care about. Those are the thoughts that have me sounding like what Mom called “a worry wart.”