Dame Joan Bakewell,the cultural broadcaster and writer once dubbed ‘the thinking man’s crumpet’ by the late Frank Muir, has suggested that elderly people would be far happier if they eschewed ambition,giving-up on ‘winning’, and lived more content with their lot. At a recent gathering at the Hay-on-Wye Festival, she also added, on the other hand, that a person in old age needed a sense of purpose when pursuing careers, caring for young family, and keeping one’s remaining friends, cease to play a crucial part in life.Old age she felt was like a ‘country’, where its inhabitants were generally excluded,depressed, and lonely.
The ‘country’ of old age
This for me this raises the age-old question : when does one reach the frontier of this awful country thus described? It is rather like measuring the proverbial piece of string.One arbitrary line, like the current official retirement age in the UK, for instance is not appropriate for the well being of all people reaching it, if strictly applied. Dame Joan believes that at the age of 81 she is reaching that frontier. For others of differing states of health, level of skills, including social, and lifestyle needs, the step into old age may be much nearer, or perhaps further away. I do like the idea, though, of conducting a later life that minimises anxiety so often the result of living with rivalry.
Where I have difficulty is defining ambition. One person’s ambition maybe to do more for others; another to write poetry or a novel, or perhaps simply just to do do something different, and have different interests from an earlier life.This kind of ambition is to be encouraged in my book.
Look for a sense of purpose
Whilst, the country of old age for many may seem a very bleak place, unless you can rest content on your laurels in the comfort of a life well lived, Dame Joan does see how this can change. Life can still be wonderful and fulfilling. With some adjustment of their goals, the elderly can still have a sense of purpose for the rest of their lives.
Old age is no longer a place of willing submissiveness
To help people with the necessary life changes, she advocates official help with the appointment of a ‘commissioner’ for the old, charged with looking after their special interests.The old now have significant political power, she says,’old age is no longer a place of willing submissiveness.’ People in later life now expect more from their later life.
What do you think?Your comments would be most welcome.