America is missing the promise of its Old Men

"Have you seen "No Country for Old Men?" a friend asked me recently. No, not even now that it's out on DVD. Frankly I'm usually too busy to stay current on movies. Besides, I heard it's not exactly a "family" film. But the title makes me think: "'No Country for Old Men"… is that now our national attitude?" 

The message these days seems to be that America's only for the young and when we reach a certain age, it's over. Time to get out of the way.

There's been lots of talk lately about end-of-life issues, especially in the health care debate. While politicians claim there's no pull-the-plug-on-Grandpa-or-Grandma wording in the various congressional bills, the system is certainly working toward deciding when enough is enough. Insurance companies have basically rationed care for years, and now Uncle Sam also wants a crack at saying, "Sorry, you're too old."

Historically, every generation feels they're the best and the brightest. From JFK's "the torch has been passed" speech to Barack Obama's frequent references to moving past old ways, the rhetoric's been there, and it appears to be increasing. 

In the president's commencement speech at Arizona State University earlier this year, there's his charge to exceed with a "willingness to question conventional wisdom and rethink the old dogmas. A lack of regard for all the traditional markers of status and prestige—and a commitment instead to doing what is meaningful to you."

So, as time goes by, everything is now supposed to be fresh and new, in a state of constant change and flux. And what did Mr. Obama really mean by "rethink the old dogmas" anyway? I guess that means throw out Scripture, too. Only government knows best?

I don't buy it. 

While America is still a country of opportunity (for now, anyway), we toss off the knowledge of "old" men and women at our peril. Perhaps if we'd listened to our more venerable voices in the last several years, we could have avoided much of the pain of the recession and out-of-control spending. 

But the daily beat goes on, with the latest geniuses in Washington, D.C. telling us they're much smarter and younger, as the mindset shifts. The more the USA shows disdain for the old, the easier it will be to try to save money by cutting them off when it's determined to be "necessary."


Targets of ridicule
It's also irritating to hear some people make fun of the elderly.

Street taunts of, "Hey old man" (and worse) belie a colossal ignorance of this key point:  We're all going there. We'll be there someday. No one stays young on this earth, and the next generation will be just as eager to throw the last into the cultural dumpster. Ignoring reality doesn't change it, either.

Attention fellow "Baby Boomers" (those born between 1946 and 1964): We're also considered old news, based on recent comments from the nation's capital. It's as if nothing of real significance happened before Jan. 20, 2009. 

Maybe all of this has caused me to hang out with older friends. Often they're much older. My wife and I took some "friend inventory" the other day and realized that in addition to plenty of younger buddies (those whippersnappers), many of the most cherished people in our lives are those who society would assume are "toast."  

They're Americans in their late 70s, 80s and beyond… folks who often get barely a glance from people on the street as assumptions are made. I'm talking about men who were once daring soldiers, scientists, test pilots and some who have walked on the moon.

One of our best pals is a sprightly 94 years of age, still running his company as CEO. Others are women who blazed new trails in life long before there was a thing called "women's lib," some forced by circumstances to assume the role of Mom and Dad at home. These are grownups who aren't afraid to talk about God and priorities, or the challenges of raising healthy families. The reality is that they are treasures… walking history books with endless insight into where we've been and where we could go together. But today's national mood, cranked up by the media, sends a constant message that only the young "get it" and this is no country for the "old." How wrong that is—and sad.

Older men (and women) understand life more than others. They've "been there" and remember how to fix mistakes, moving on to bigger, better things. They know that, Lord willing, we're never really finished as long as we have breath to take on a new day. Many have been called "The Greatest Generation" only to now feel that the country to which they've dedicated their lives thinks they're probably in the way now, costing Americans too much.


Afraid of their knowledge?
Our seniors also know "where the bodies are buried." Maybe that's the real reason many new leaders don't want to hang around them, or acknowledge their ongoing value. Older men and women with their unsurpassed understanding of history, context and perspective have the ability to reveal what's really going on. That scares some of today's "stars," big time.

George Santayana was right when he noted, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It's time we remember, before it's too late.


Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. He can be heard daily in San Diego on KCBQ 1170AM from 7 to 9 a.m. Email: mark@marklarson.com.

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Published, November 2009