Monday, August 28, 2006

Senior Citizen 2.0

In a long-winded stentorian monologue, one of my fellow morning bus passengers confidently explained his business prospects to his patient seatmate. "My future's bright," he said, "because geriatrics are really hot right now." The garrulous passenger didn't appear to notice my seatmate, who sat covering her ears and glaring at him. It was a little too early on a Monday morning to listen to unsolicited motivational speechifying.

At best, we view the elderly as a market demographic. At worst, we look down on them as an expensive problem. Age discrimination is widespread in the workplace. People are embarrassed simply about getting older (there's a point where it's rude to ask someone's age, as if you're drawing attention to an unmentionable ailment). Unsurprisingly, depression and inactivity are common among the elderly. Many feel that they have no value in the current milieu of fast-paced technological change.

We need to substantially readjust our attitude about our living ancestors. Your grandfather may not have heard of, but he has accumulated a wealth of experience in other areas. He's made mistakes and learned from them. In short: he's got wisdom. And while we're trying our best to ensure that the planet will sustain life 100+ years from now, we can use all the wisdom we can get.

To address this need, Rakesh Khurana and his colleagues at Harvard Business School have come up with an ingenious idea: the School for Advanced Institutional Leadership.

He says he woke up in the middle of the night and realized he had "solved the Social Security problem"....[the school is] not for people entering the workforce but for older people preparing to leave it. Enrollees would use their years of experience in science, government, business, or the arts to solve social problems. "Many of these people would like to give back, but they don't have a pathway," says Khurana. "The role of this university can be to create this third stage of education."
This plan is absolutely on the right track. BusinessWeek has argued that we've been ignoring certain intangible aspects of the economy. Might the collective wisdom of our elders be included in such an assessment?

Via Fast Company



James Cooper said...

I read not long ago that the senior demographic is finding themselves a place online blogging, and doing quite well at it. Once upon a time the elders of a given locale were revered as educators, historians, and storytellers -- perhaps they're finding their way back.

The school sounds like another excellent way to tap into their wisdom, experience, and opinions. It would be interesting to see if the idea ever comes to fruition.

Katy said...

Have you heard of the Elder Wisdom Circle?

I heard a story about them on NPR once - a way for the elders of our generation to dispense wisdom to those who need it. This web site is one of the efforts at a solution to this need that you highlight in your blog.

Jonathan said...

James, that's interesting about older folks and blogging; it makes sense. Much of our age-based discrimination is simply connected with how people look: if they're not young and beautiful, than we don't value their contribution as much. Blogging, however, levels the playing field.

Katy, that Elder Wisdom Circle site looks great; I hadn't heard of it before. Thanks for the link, sistah! :)