Aging in America
Bill Novelli is CEO of AARP, a membership organization of 40 million people age 50 and older, half of whom remain actively employed. AARP’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for all as we age. Prior to joining AARP, Mr. Novelli was President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, whose mandate is to change public policies and the social environment, limit tobacco companies’ marketing and sales practices to children and serve as a counterforce to the tobacco industry and its special interests. He now serves as chairman of the board. He was also Executive Vice President of CARE, the world’s largest private relief and development organization.
Mr. Novelli is a recognized leader in social marketing and social change, and has managed programs in cancer control, diet and nutrition, cardiovascular health, reproductive health, infant survival, pay increases for educators, charitable giving and other programs in the U.S. and the developing world. His book, 50+: Give Meaning and Purpose to the Best Time of Your Life, was updated in 2008. Mr. Novelli serves on a number of boards and advisory committees. He holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.A. from Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication, and pursued doctoral studies at New York University.
Question: How are the interests of seniors different?
Bill Novelli: That’s a great question. You know when you look at the research, what it suggests is that . . . that there are some differences in terms of age segments. There are differences in how people use technology. There’s certain differences in terms of what people want. But when you get a little bit lower than that – when you get down to needs, the needs are very similar. And then when you get down to values, what you find is that the generations are really closely connected in our country. This is a powerful force. And so grandparents really care about their grandchildren. They care about their children and vice versa. The grandchildren today . . . young people today care about their parents and their grandparents. So you have this real cohesiveness – this connectedness. And so from our standpoint we try to think that way. We try to think inter-generationally. So just to give you an example right now, we’re working very hard at AARP to try to get the state children’s health insurance program reauthorized and expanded. Now why do we want to do that? We want to do that because those are our grandchildren, and because children are the future of the country. So that interconnectedness is very strong and very important.
Question: How old is “old” these days?
Bill Novelli: Well it’s changing quite rapidly. And the reason for this is as boomers age, and as people in their 60s and 70s age, they tend to be healthier and better educated than previous generations. And so you have people living longer, and you have this huge cohort of boomers – 78 million baby boomers – coming into their older years. So what all this adds up to is that our society is aging. And as far as how old is “old”, nobody really knows. You know there’s a . . . there’s a line that says basically, “Old is 10 years older than I am.”
Question: What are the most pressing issues for AARP’s 35 million members?
Bill Novelli: The pressing issue for us today is to try to get healthcare fixed, because what’s happening is more and more people are unable to afford healthcare insurance even if their employer offers it to them. More and more employers are changing or losing jobs. And when they do that they can’t take their insurance with them. They’re worried about their children. They’re worried about so many aspects of healthcare. So many bankruptcies in this country are due to health costs. And right now about two-thirds of all adults in this country think that the coming generation is going to be worse off than their parents. And if that happened, it would be the first time in American history. And a major reason for that is healthcare, and also financial security – not being able to save enough for retirement; pensions going south; trying to care for aging parents and having kids at home; and not being able really to draw . . . to save at work. So these are the issues that are at the top of the agenda for us.
Question: Do the young have a responsibility to the old?
Bill Novelli: I think the young have a responsibility to the old. And very definitely older people have a responsibility to the young. There’s no question. Every generation has to be responsible to the other. That’s what . . . that’s what society is built upon. And you know there was a congressman who came to the AARP Board one day, and he said, “You know that young people have to pay for older people to receive Social Security. And I’m gonna go out and talk to youngpeople, and I’m going to make them madder than hell about this.” And of course there is no intergenerational warfare in this country. He was . . . he was dead wrong. Young people are interested in their parents and their grandparents. And as I said before, vice versa. We have to all care about each other. And if we do that, we’ll be a better society.
Question: How does one age well?
Bill Novelli: Well I think there’s a formula. And the formula is not a deep secret. The way to age well, I think, is to stay mentally and physically active. And then the obvious things: you know eat well, don’t smoke, those kinds of things. Get plenty of exercise. But mental and physical activity are the most important things that people can do to age well.
Recorded on: 9/27/07
Thinking intergenerationally will benefit us in the long run, Novelli says.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
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Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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