Sept 26, 2013
A friend of mine who was made redundant lately could not find another job. He is in his late 50s, energetic and capable, and still because of his age found himself outside the workforce being orced into early retirement. He is not alone, many of his friends- all experienced and highly qualified --are in the same position.
There are some professions, medicine is one example, in which age is almost a necessary prerequisite. I heard that it is best to be operated on by a gray haired surgeon, as they have the skill and the expertise. Similarly, age is regarded as a merit when we seek the advice of a wise and experienced political scientist, philosopher, theologian or a rabbi.
But there are cases in which age is treated differently even within the same profession. For example, lately the players of the Israeli Philharmonic voiced their displeasure when some of them were forced off the stage into retirement once they turned 67 while their conductor, ten years their senior, remained standing and performing on that same stage.
I don’t mean to argue that people should continue working beyond retirement age, but in a society where most people derive their sense of identity from their work, there must be another way for us to feel self worth when we no longer have a job.
The author Malcolm Bradbury 1932—2000 :The History, Man, Stepping Westwardת boasted once that he had no hobbies. I believe that by saying that he wished to stress his commitment to his work. He was not the kind of man who “wasted” time on gardening or fishing.
Bradbury was lucky; literature was his passion and his vocation; he was a professor of literature and creative writing and wrote novels and academic books. He improved with age and attained fame and recognition. His achievements were rewarded and in 2000 at the age of 68 he was knighted for his contribution to literature.
Yet other professionals are far less lucky, the engineer who cannot get a project, the architect who doesn’t get to build, and the computer programmer who is left behind.
Lately I have been reflecting about Bradbury’s negative attitude to hobbies and the problem of work and identity. The son of a railwayman, Bradbury drew a clear distinction between himself and the leisured class. For centuries in Britain a group of people did not partake in the work force but enjoyed plenty of other occupations that today we call "hobbies." As Jane Austen illustrates in her novels, women inside the home worked on their “accomplishments:” the ability to paint, to play music, to sing or to speak modern languages. There were also activities outside the home like riding, hunting, and gardening. In addition, many privileged men and women worked for their community and the parish.
Those accomplishments and other unpaid activities gave an otherwise idle group of people a sense of purpose, and a satisfaction. In today’s world when so many of us are left without a job and can no longer derive our sense of identity from our work, we could learn from the privileged class how to live a full life without a job. Drawing on their experience with how best to fight boredom a we could aquire new “accomplishments” or do community work, the main goal would be to bring back meaning, joy and confidence into our life.