weekly blog--one for the ages
On Saturday mornings, I often go to a Torah study class led by a conservative rabbi. A few weeks ago, he posed this question to the group: if you invited someone to dinner and they brought food that didn’t fit with the dietary laws of the meal, (i.e. a dairy dessert with meat dinner, non-Passover dish for a Seder), would you serve and eat it? Most of the people in the class including me simply said no. To my surprise, several people including the rabbi said yes, believing that it was important not to offend the guest.
When I asked the question to a more observant friend, he said no. But then he threw me a curve ball: if you were visiting a tribe in a remote part of Africa and they prepared a special meal that included food that didn’t fit with any dietary laws you were keeping, would you eat it? I said yes because I did not want to offend anyone.
The point of this is that we face the Yes-No Conundrum every day. And for older adults, knowing when to say no is a way to keep from taking on too many commitments, which equates to added stress which makes you more vulnerable to feeling run-down and getting sick. Over the last few weeks, I’ve run across several blogs focused on learning how to say no, but the most well-thought-out advice was found on the Mayo Clinic website.
Reasons to say no:
Use these strategies to evaluate obligations and opportunities:
Here are some things to keep in mind when you need to say no:
I never thought that Plato would ever be the focal point of one of my blogs. But here goes…He lived in Greece around 400 BC, and along with his teacher, Socrates, and his most famous student, Aristotle, laid the foundations of Western philosophy and science. He also had some choice things to say about democracy and aging that remain relevant today.
It starts with his allegory of the cave where only people who have climbed out of one and cast their eyes on a vision of goodness are fit to rule. According to Plato, a state made up of different people will eventually decline from an aristocracy (rule by the best) to a timocracy (rule by the honorable), and then to an oligarchy (rule by the few), a democracy (rule by the people), and finally to tyranny (rule by a tyrant or dictator).
Applicable to the current presidential election, Plato writes that in a democracy the state bears traits such as equality of political opportunity and freedom for the individual to do as he likes. Democracy then degenerates into tyranny from the conflict of rich and poor. It is characterized by an undisciplined society existing in chaos, where the tyrant rises as popular champion leading to the formation of his private army and the growth of oppression. Sound familiar?
As for aging, Plato didn’t think much of it. He believed that older people were considered wise only if they devoted a long life to study and thought.
In ancient Greece, dying in one’s 60's was considered natural; to die younger was seen as a harsh and unnatural fate. Aristotle characterized old people as overly pessimistic, distrustful, malicious, suspicious and small minded because they had been humbled by life and so their greatest hopes are raised to nothing more than staying alive. About three hundred years later, Cicero, the Roman Plato, said that old age will only be respected if it fights for itself, maintains its rights, avoids dependence on anyone, and asserts control over its own to the last breath. Sound familiar?
An article about counterfeit drugs in AARP’s daily e-letter got me thinking about all of the scams that are perpetuated on the elderly, and also about how much my pills for high blood pressure and cholesterol are costing me these days, even with a co-pay. The simple fact is that prescription drugs are cheaper in other countries. A Wall Street Journal article, among several published in the last few months, pinpointed the problem: “drug prices in the U.S. are shrouded in mystery, obscured by confidential rebates, multiple middlemen and the strict guarding of trade secrets.”
One portal where drug pricing can be compared is Medicare Part B, where the prices are public. The WSJ found that U.S. prices were higher for 93% of 40 top branded drugs available in Norway. Similar patterns appeared when compared with those in England and Canada’s Ontario province.
Unlike other countries, Medicare, the largest single U.S. payer for prescription drugs, is not allowed by law to negotiate pricing; essentially forfeiting its buying power and leaving the negotiations to doctors’ office with limited leverage. Also, the prevailing sentiment in countries with national health systems, according to one expert, is that they can’t afford everything for everybody at any price. In the U.S., the prevailing thought is just the opposite and akin to walking into a Burger King and having it your way.
One new potential solution to lower costs in the U.S.: paying for drugs according to how well they actually work. This past summer a doctor and his colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City stirred the pot by introducing the DrugAbacus, an online calculator which, according to Wired Magazine, compares present-day costs for dozens of cancer drugs with theoretical prices determined by adjustable variables such as side effects, R&D costs, predicted years of life added, and the number of people each drug could help.
This week I had an opportunity to read “Disrupted,” a new book by Dan Lyons. Dan was the tech writer at Newsweek for a quarter of a century before getting laid off at age 52. He eventually landed a job in the marketing department at Hubspot, a Boston start-up that sells email marketing software, mostly to small businesses. His transition from journalist to marketeer did not go well and he eventually left in disgust--alienated by a company culture and management team that focused on luring a certain kind of worker: “young and easily influenced white middle-class, suburban, recent college graduate.”
Dan also left with stock options that he was able to parlay into a $60,000 windfall after the company went public, and found himself in the middle of a “spy” scandal when some of Hubspot’s executives got wind of his new book, and tried to obtain the manuscript before it was published to determine how badly it might damage the company’s image now that it was valued at more than two billion dollars.
Spygate and stock options aside, age discrimination in companies is all too real. I didn’t experience the full brunt of it until the travel association I co-managed was purchased by an Internet company. I hung around one year, found that I didn’t fit, and left thinking that I was still a marketable commodity at age 54. I was wrong. I managed to land quite a few interviews, often making it to the final round, but the anticipated job offer never came.
Looking from the other side of the desk, I could see why. Maybe he’s overqualified and will leave as soon as he finds something better? Maybe he’s not experienced using social media to hype an organization and its products? Maybe he knows more than the hiring manager, and an adversarial relationship will develop and erode company moral?
The lesson learned. As much as it hurts, age discrimination is not worth spilling lots of tears over. It’s simply the job market sayings it’s time to reinvent yourself. And given the volatile nature of the work world these days, modifying one’s identity as we grow older seems the logical course of action to take if you want to age successfully or positively per an earlier blog.
Adding some fire to this lesson--a recent study published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College concluded that 47 percent of workers retire by the age of 63; the ones that do cite stress as a major factor. High on that list: nurses and doctors. Surprisingly, only about 1/3 of workers manage to continue working for pay past the age of 65, and many are in jobs that are considered less stressful such as professor and writer. But something tells me that the survey authors never tried to write a novel or teach a class.