2012 is the European Year of Active Aging. An entire year devoted – by all countries in the European Union – to life after 60 and the concept of “getting more out of life as your grow older, not less.” Very new-world thinking. Over here in the old world – commonly referred to as North America – not a lot of new thinking going on. Take, for example, the government report ironically titled “Healthy Aging in Canada: A New Vision,” which cites eating habits, physical activity and falls prevention as key issues to be tackled. (Insert eye-roll here.) Compare that to some of the ideas and initiatives springing up on the other side of the Atlantic this year and you find a world of difference in attitudes.
For starters, to Europeans the word active actually means active. Where Canadian officials mention walking and gardening in their ‘new vision,’ in Estonia the new Move for Health initiative encourages hiking, Nordic walking, dancing and more.
Active also translates to active in the community and the world around you. In France, Old’Up matches seniors with younger citizens to help them learn about modern ideas – online purchasing, using Skype, etc. In Ireland, the Wiser website reverses the concept and offers advice from the country’s elders to those who write in with questions about life. Lab 1870, a Dutch project, mixes musicians and singers younger than 18 with those older than 70 (their first concert, in Zwolle next Tuesday, includes songs by Coldplay and Vera Lynn.)
On top of that, there’s also active as in active in the workforce. And, here’s where things get really interesting.
- iAge, an EU-funded project of six countries around the North Sea, focuses on the use of technology to improve employment opportunities, quality of life and social participation of elderly citizens.
- SNOVE (Supporting the Needs of Older, Vulnerable Employees), another EU-funded project – involving France, Finland, Netherlands, Bulgaria and the UK – is designed to equip older workers with key skills to enable them to maintain their employment during the economic recession.
- In Spain, CRISOL helps 50-plus citizens find new employment and cooperative opportunities, while SECOT (Spanish Seniors for Technical Cooperation) offers the mentorship of former CEOs and executives to young entrepreneurs launching start-ups.
- TAEN (The Age and Employment Network), a British organization focused on removing age barriers to employment, works to improve labour market opportunities for those at midlife and beyond, and advocates for the adoption of age-management policies and practices that help corporations adapt to an aging workforce.
Not just new-world thinking, smart thinking.
With an aging population, and saddled with debt and economic challenges, it makes perfect sense for governments to not only encourage older citizens to be active in all facets of life, but to be an active force in the economy. And, in this case, we’re not referring to the EU (they’ve already figured this out), we’re talking about North America (where, as it happens, about 7 percent of Americans over the age of 55 are unemployed, and the same age group of Canadians make up 51 percent of unemployment insurance claimants).
On both sides of the Atlantic similarities abound but – when it comes to perceptions of aging and programs initiated to harness the potential of an older population – we’re a world apart in thinking.
Different view: We end this week’s instalment with commercials. Not that we think these recent 60-second ads will win any international advertising awards, we simply want you to see them. The one above is from the EU, the one below is from Singapore. Watch them, then ask yourself, when was the last time you saw aging depicted this way?
Creating the future often seems to mean relying on regurgitated views of the past. Why do we find it hard to imagine something truly new?
In the days following the death of the wildly creative writer Ray Bradbury, an interview he gave to the Paris Review made the rounds. “I don’t believe in optimism. I believe in optimal behavior. That’s a different thing. If you behave every day of your life to the top of your genetics, what can you do? Test it. Find out. You don’t know—you haven’t done it yet. You must live life at the top of your voice! At the top of your lungs shout and listen to the echoes. I learned a lesson years ago. I had some wonderful Swedish meatballs at my mother’s table with my dad and my brother and when I finished I pushed back from the table and said, God! That was beautiful. And my brother said, No, it was good. See the difference?
Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad—you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.”
As Bradbury reminds us, action leads to creativity and not the other way around. Whether your life is half over or 99% there, why not live each and every day to the full? Bradbury did – he kept writing right up to his final days. (And, yes, keep nudging the powers that be to get in on the action. The real action. It’s time for a decidedly 21st-century spin.)
Julia Moulden and Trisse Loxley have been writing and editing for the media and corporate sectors for a combined 50 years. Today, they’re reconnecting with their generation and helping their clients engage with Boomers, too.