Upon retiring several years ago, I had visions of savoring a rash of opportunities in Sacramento from prospective employers looking for someone who could write, speak and think clearly. I soon discovered that once an older white man leaves today’s workforce, he is routinely regarded to be “pale, male and stale.”
That caustic barb was leveled at the late John Davies during a raucous Senate Rules Committee hearing in 1993 as he was seeking a full term on the University of California Board of Regents. His critics claimed that an old white guy could not relate to UC’s increasingly diverse population, but Davies prevailed, was later named chairman and served as a peacemaker between various board factions.
Davies’ rude encounter reflects a society that frequently devalues age and the wisdom that comes from experience. Consider the context of former presidents who are largely ignored once they leave office when they could be useful in several capacities. The same holds true for all matter of retirees whose talents are seldom tapped. Rather than relegate them to the checkout lane in our youth-centered culture, why not see what they have to offer?
I teach a class “Race and Gender in the Media” at American River College and stress the dangers of stereotyping people on the basis of skin color, ethnicity, gender, social class and, yes, age. After negatively profiling my students by their surnames and so forth, I invite them to verbally assail me with similarly bigoted perceptions. Suffice it to say their stereotypes flow from a widely accepted perception of people who have outlived their usefulness.
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The “Boss” Bruce Springsteen, who is in his mid-60s, goes nonstop for nearly three hours onstage and was recently named by Rolling Stone magazine as the nation’s top concert performer.
Tell that to Gov. Jerry Brown, who at age 76 has helped pull California back from an economic precipice and has restored some luster to the Golden State. He will readily concede that his success in governing stems in large part from the wisdom that comes with longevity. He hardly fits the sulfurous “pale, male and stale” tag some of his nastier opponents suggested as much when he ran against Meg Whitman in 2010.
Several months ago Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band put on a rousing show at Sleep Train Arena, personifying a passion for his craft while pushing 70. The “Boss” Bruce Springsteen, who is in his mid-60s, goes nonstop for nearly three hours onstage and was recently named by Rolling Stone magazine as the nation’s top concert performer.
Their examples should not be dismissed as mere exceptions that prove the inevitable rule of aging’s irrelevance. To the contrary there are countless examples of older men and women who are doing wonderful things as volunteers in hospitals, schools, shelters, museums and the like.
The cliche that getting old isn’t for sissies is all too clear to those of us who encounter various maladies as we age. That said there’s nothing quite like the excitement of remaining vital and connecting with the younger generation, be they your students or your grandchildren. I’m grateful for the chance to keep making those connections.
Alan Miller is a former editorial writer and columnist for The Detroit News and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He currently teaches at American River College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.