Osho responds to a question regarding care of the elderly, providing some novel solutions.
Something feels drastically wrong about the way society looks after – or fails to look after – the elderly. What can be done for those who are retired and whose families have grown up?
In the past, families often felt obliged to have one or both parents live with them – sometimes with disastrous results. Abuse of the elderly is an epidemic problem in America. Alternatively, the elderly are put in homes, where they are visited at weekends out of guilt and a sense of duty; or they are entirely neglected.
The housing complexes provided for the elderly are often depressing and lonely, like a state of limbo between life and death.
It feels so ungracious and inhuman that society uses people and then casts them off into anonymity…
The problem of the elderly has arisen because man is living longer than he used to live before.
All the old skeletons found in India, in China and other ancient countries prove one thing: that nobody used to live more than forty years; hence the problem of the elderly never arose in those societies. It is because of this fact that the scriptures go on saying that in our country people never became old. It was not something great; it was simply that before old age they were dead. Death came before old age; now it comes after.
And as a country is more advanced, people are living longer – ninety years, a hundred years. In a few countries, there are thousands of people who have crossed the boundary line of one hundred and fifty. And in a few special places, because of their food, their climate and their genetics, a few people have reached the age of one hundred and eighty. And they are still young; they are working just like anybody else.
But the problem for the society is that employment is limited. The population growth is tremendous. New people are coming in such great numbers that we have to vacate places for them; we have to retire people. And as time passes, we will have to retire people even earlier than we are retiring them now. Now in a few countries it is sixty years, in a few countries fifty-five years, but soon this will not be possible. People will have to retire by the age of around forty-five – because the pressure of the new people coming will be so great that if you don’t give them opportunities they will create chaos. But to retire somebody at the age of forty-five is dangerous, it creates many psychological problems.
First, a person needs some work, some creativity, to feel that he is needed. This is one of the most essential psychological needs of man – to be needed. The moment you feel you are no more needed, suddenly something starts dying within you, shrinking within you – as if the will to live has lost all its power, energy, hope. Tomorrow is nothing but darkness.
And the person who has become useless to the society – that’s what retirement is…. We make it as beautiful as we can by giving a beautiful pocket watch, celebrating it – it is just a cover-up. The reality is, we are throwing the person in the junkyard: ‘You are no longer needed, your work is finished.’ Now younger people, more educated, better educated, who know the latest scientific developments, are going to replace you. You are out of date.’
Suddenly, you have become a posthumous person. You will go on living, breathing, eating, but it will be just like an appendix to a book – the book is finished, and nobody reads the appendix. One starts losing dignity, self-respect; one starts feeling out of place everywhere – one is no longer connected with the society, with who is now in power; a great gap has arisen.
These people are going through a tremendous inner turmoil and crisis.
To keep them in the family, as has always been done in the past, is to create a nuisance for the new ones – because these people have nothing to do except criticize. They are ready to get angry, easily annoyed, irritated, ready to fight. In fact, these are their ways of making the society and the family feel that they are alive, that you cannot just ignore them. They are doing it in a wrong way, but whatever they are doing should be understood with great compassion: they are simply asking for a little attention. For their whole life they have been paid attention to – in the offices, in the shops, in the government, wherever they were they were somebody. And now they are nobody – not even to their own children.
The problem becomes more complex because the children have no obligation to be bothered with these old people. They have a small life span of their own; soon they will be retired. Before retirement they want to enjoy life – to eat, drink and be merry.
And these old people are sitting there, continuously watching what you are doing; they suddenly become very spiritual, moralistic disciplinarians; they start finding loopholes in everybody’s life – and nobody likes it.
Nobody wants to be interfered with. Their independence to live their life in their own way is their birth right. And these old people, to the younger generation, look like idiots for the simple reason that the younger generation knows more, it is better educated. Science is progressing in leaps and bounds. Every generation comes with the latest developments, cancelling all old knowledge as false, as mistaken.
It was not so in the past. Things have changed so dramatically that unless we take the whole into account, we will not be able to solve the problem. In the past the situation was totally different, diametrically different. There was no gap between the younger and the older generation. The gap has only been created in this century.
The father always knew more, and the child always knew less – because the only way of knowing was by experience. A carpenter’s son had to learn by doing carpentry. Naturally the father was much more knowledgeable about the art, the craftsmanship, and at no time could the son say, ‘You are out of date.’
This is why all the old civilizations respect old people, because the old people always knew more than the young people. Old people expect the same today also, but it is not possible – they have forgotten that the basic root was that the older knew more than the younger. Now the situation is just the reverse: the younger know more than the older.
Today, every young person coming from the university is ahead of the older generation. His lifestyle has changed, his thinking about the world has changed, his values have changed – and the old people are constantly poking their noses into it. So the only way that has been found is to put these old people in houses for the old.
Out of duty, out of guilt, the children go to meet their parents there, but not for love, not for joy. And most often they are neglected; nobody ever goes there. Their lives are certainly very miserable.
They have lost their jobs, and with their jobs their respect; with their jobs their worth; with their jobs the feeling that they are somebody. Their ego is punctured. They have lost their family.
Certainly there is a great problem, and this problem is going to become bigger every day.
My suggestion is: first, the moment old people retire and their families send them to the houses for the old, their marriages should also be cancelled – because love can bring a new spring again. It doesn’t matter whether you are fifty or sixty. They have produced children; they have lived together; now it is time. They are departing from the family, they have departed from the job; they should depart from the marriage also – because their sadness has much to do with the situation of the husband and wife left alone. No friends, no children, no job – and they are tired of each other, they don’t seem to take any interest in each other.
It should be optional: if some couple wants to live together, that is up to them, but if couples want to separate they should be respectfully separated so they can start their lives anew – and for the first time without worries. They have their pensions, money is no longer a problem; they can find new partners, new lovers.
And it has been psychologically established that if even an old man falls in love with a woman, his life is lengthened at least by ten years – because love gives juice to your roots, you again become young, you again start looking at flowers, thinking of poetry, thinking of painting, writing love letters.
So the first thing is that love should be given another chance.
And what is the harm? – if you can have two springs in your life….
And now you are more experienced. You will not reproduce children again – that phase is over, you have tortured yourself enough. You will take every care that children are not produced.
And it is a strange phenomenon: the moment somebody falls in love, many things change – his face has a different glow, his eyes become more shiny, he smiles more. He may go and dye his hair – life is taking a new beginning – get a beautiful set of teeth. He has to become a little younger.
To me, love is a kind of chemistry – it is chemistry. Your body starts functioning in a different way. He will start thinking, if he is a man, to go for morning walks, jogging, swimming, to keep his body fit because now there is a woman. For himself he was not caring about his body, but the woman…. And the woman is going to care about her body at least twenty times more. It will be a beautiful place because then in those old people’s houses, people will paint their rooms in lighter colours, not dark and sad, gloomy. They will bring flowers, they will start gardening, may go for a world tour, may go for a long trip in a boat.
Life can be joy.
They can meditate, they can study. Much that they always wanted to do and had no time to do… now they have time, they have money. They can paint, they can sculpt.
My own idea is that special classes should be opened in every university for these old people who want to learn painting, who want to learn sculpture, who want to learn music, who want to learn dancing. They should enter the university again, a second phase of education.
I have always had the idea that the first phase of education is the preparation for life and the second phase of education should be the preparation for death.
You don’t have any preparation for death, no education for death. This is a lopsided situation. A person has lived half his life, and you trained him, educated him. Now the other half should not be left barren like a desert. He should begin again, with the second part of his education. He meditates, he learns creative arts, he dances. He writes poetry, novels.
Whatever he wanted to do in life… now life has respectfully given him time to do everything that has been just a desire in his mind, just a dream. Now it can be turned into a reality. And he should be freed from all old bondage – marriage, or any other kind of bondages – so he can start new adventures in every direction.
We can make the second part so beautiful that people who are still in the first part will feel jealous, will feel, “How long will it take for me to be retired? – because those old guys are really enjoying it. We are working, earning; they are simply relaxing, taking sunbaths on different beaches around the world, with different women.”
The old people have to defeat the young – there is no need to be defeated. Right now they have taken a very defeatist attitude. They should take it as a challenge: ‘Now we will prove that old age is not a misery, that it can become a tremendously beautiful experience.’
In fact, it has to be more beautiful than the first phase, because the first phase was only a preparation for the second. And the second is the preparation for the eternal.
(Osho: Sermons in Stones)