These values should not be taken lightly, for I believe they are sorely lacking in our global society today. These people knew what was at stake at the time, embraced the challenge, and banded together to defeat a common enemy. There are number of problems we confront today that require the same global effort to solve them. Those of the greatest generation who remain with us, and have the wherewithal to do so, should be called upon to assist in the effort.
Our global population is aging, this much we know; but I would argue that this does not mean that our elders no longer have anything valuable to offer. They still have the knowledge and talent - not to mention the time - to make a difference as they did some seventy years ago.
It is my firm belief that we as a society fail if we do not lean on our seniors to utilize their talents and input to help solve some of our most intractable global problems. Those that are able still can make a useful contribution, and we should call upon them as we did during one of the darkest periods in human history. They understand the duty of public service, and I know they would not hesitate to answer the bell yet again. We should rely on them as trusted resources.
The U.N. Recognizes the Problem that an Aging Population Presents
The theme for the 2014 International Day of Older Persons was: “Leaving No One Behind: Promoting a Society for All” If we are truly sincere in our belief that we cannot leave anyone behind, then we must heed the call of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon when he said, “Older persons make wide-ranging contributions to economic and social development. However, discrimination and social exclusion persist. We must overcome this bias in order to ensure a socially and economically active, secure and healthy ageing population.”
The Secretary-General’s principle of “Leaving No One Behind: Promoting a Society for All” places an important emphasis on demography and how it factors in to sustainable development. An aging population should be included in a post-2015 development agenda. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.), the U.N.’s global health body, recently issued a warning regarding the consequences of failing to address the issue of aging. W.H.O. indicated that the number of people worldwide aged 60 and older will increase from 800 million to 2 billion over the course of the next forty years. This statistical boost will result in higher incidences of chronic illnesses as well as a lower standard of living overall for the elderly around the world. W.H.O.’s findings were published in the medical journal The Lancet.
As is usually the case, the burden will fall the heaviest on the developing world, and the gap is only widening between the developed and developing world; it is estimated that 80% of the elderly will reside in lower to moderate income nations. People are living longer due to the advancements made in medical science. With this, though, comes the responsibility of caring for those elderly who require it and utilizing those who can be of service.
Looking long term, Dr. Somnath Chatterji Director of W.H.O.’s Department of Health Statistics and Information Systems said, “Collectively, we need to look beyond the costs commonly associated with ageing to think about the benefits that an older, healthier, happier, and more productive older population can bring to society as a whole.”
In 2012, a report titled “Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge” was published by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) along with over twenty U.N. agencies and international organizations. One specific international organization HelpAge International, a group who advocates on behalf of the elderly in an effort to improve their lives, had significant input for this report. The study was released to coincide with the ten year anniversary of The Second World Assembly on Ageing that met in Madrid, Spain in 2002. At this meeting, the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing was adopted. It specifically called for improving the health and lives of the elderly. Moreover, it sought to focus on older persons as being active members of the global community. It decried the fact that we as a global society are permitting the skills and knowledge or our seniors to be wasted when we could be benefitting from the talent they have to offer.
The chief executive of HelpAge Richard Blewitt said, “We must commit to ending the widespread mismanagement of ageing,” he further added, “By revolutionising [sic] our approach and investing in people as they age we can build stronger, wealthier societies.” “Rather than burying our head in the sand and saying old people are going to ruin our economy, we have to see the opportunity in this,” Blewitt added.
Brokaw was correct: They were the Greatest Generation
The global “graying” of our world does have its ramifications, specifically as it relates to the world economy; but also has its benefits in that we now know that people are living longer lives as a result of advancements in medicine. Greater life expectancy in the developed world is one of the great achievements of our time. People are working beyond what was once considered the normal retirement age of 65.
The journalist and author Tom Brokaw was correct: There is no denying the fact that those who lived during the period of World War II and suffered through tremendous hardships and difficulties were the greatest generation. It is for this exact reason that those who remain with us today, and can still contribute, should be called upon again to do so.