Making the Most of the Multigenerational Moment

Addressing How Longer Life Spans, Retirement Dreams, and Familial Atomization Aren’t Furthering Human Flourishing

I don’t watch much news. I don’t have cable, satellite, or streaming services. I’ve never seen Tucker do his thing on Fox News, nor ever seen Don Lemon do his on CNN. Yet we do have a cheap TV antenna to get free TV over the air (mainly, I confess, to watch the sports that are still on “free TV” and some of the documentaries and musical performances on PBS).

If I watch news, it’s the PBS Newshour. Not because it’s fair or balanced, but because it keeps me abreast of where progressive thinking is headed, and at least there are no commercials. There was a segment on the PBS Newshour the other day that deserves positive attention.

Marc Freedman, founder and co-CEO of Cogenerate, painted an accurate picture of the current societal challenges in relation to work, lifespan, elderly isolation, familial atomization and more. But even more so, he offered hints of what it might look like to have a healthier society that integrates generations together in ways that lead to more human flourishing.

The brief segment is worth a full watch:

Freedman nails it:

There's a mismatch between the life course that we have inherited, which is you jam all the education into the first part of life, all the work into the middle, and all the leisure into the end. That model might have worked when life expectancy was 60 or 65. But it's not designed for the new longer lives that people are already living and that will be extended even further in the future.

Freedman notes how today’s three-stage life course of learn—work—leisure isn’t financially viable if you plan to “simply work for 30 or 40 years and then live off it for another 30 or 40 years.” But more importantly, Freedman perceptively notes that “it's also not psychologically viable. Older people need what we all need, what Freud described as love and work, a sense of connection, of bonds that matter deeply, and a reason to get up in the morning.”

Which rarely happens today. We’ve created a society where people of different ages have relatively little contact. Yet, with longer life expectancy, it is more important than ever to foster intergenerational ties and relationships. “We’re already seeing four, five, six generations living and working at the same time.” But Freedman asks, “how do you learn to cooperate with someone of a different age if you don’t have any contact with them?” Freedman offers an intriguing answer.

I think the key is proximity and purpose. We need to rethink the institutions that have been designed for older people and do it in a way which brings generations together for mutual benefit and for a greater sense of joy.

Proximity and Purpose: Sharing life together and sharing common goals. Building and belonging: These are deeply human things; but they’re deeply absent in modern society.

Family: The First Community

Marc Freedman is on to something, as he is asking the right questions and considering viable potential remedies. We might call it an echo of Eden. It was in the bliss of Eden where family was first formed in the union of Adam and Eve—belonging. And it was in the bliss of Eden, even before the fall, that work was to be done—building. Structuring our lives in such a way as to connect these two foundational aspects of human experience is a challenge in modern life, but the family unit should be the place to start. It is there where intergenerational proximity and belonging can most naturally take place. It is there, too, where creativity and fruitfulness can meld into making things and forging traditions—purpose and building.

Strengthening these connections between family belonging and creative building increases the odds of human flourishing, as it brings us to engage more fully with our most immediate world staring us right in the face—our families and our things. Uniting the tandem desires to belong and to build can bring us to experience more fully the joys of life together and the excitement of creative energy. It can also help us more ably navigate life’s tragedies and suffering—together, holding one another’s hands, wiping each other’s tears. Both celebration and mourning, both the creative and the mundane can be lived out with proximity and purpose.

Freedman’s final words from the Newshour segment are apt in closing: “Society grows great when older people plant trees under whose shade they shall never sit.” While this paints a beautiful and aspirational picture, it will take real work to get there.

Further Reading

is a classical educator, furniture-maker, and vicar at All Saints Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Charlotte, North Carolina. He also taught high school history for thirteen years and studied at Messiah College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Winthrop University. In addition to Salvo, Josh has written for Areo, FORMA, Front Porch Republic, Mere Orthodoxy, Public Discourse, Quillette, The Imaginative Conservative, Touchstone, and is a frequent guest on Issues, Etc. Radio Show/Podcast.

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