This I Believe: In Returnment

Jay - Portland, Oregon
Entered on December 26, 2007

I am a fifty six year old, male who, if lucky, has approximately three more decades of life to look forward to. I am part of the baby boom generation, and like many of my fellow boomers I have been given much. I now bring years of experience, wisdom and knowledge to the world.

And, I am not alone. For every eight seconds someone in this country is turning 50.

For 35 years I have worked in the non-profit sector. I have been on the front lines of the social wars going on in this country. I have watched as our challenges loom larger and larger, and as resources are diverted to a war overseas. I’ve watched poverty rates increase (especially among children); and witness as everyone who watches the nightly news does-the rise in drug problems; violence; domestic abuse; the fear of individual differences and the growing gap between the rich and poor. I, along with thousands of other individuals working as teachers; nurses; social workers; and all forms of caregivers have struggled with lower wages; fewer resources; and growing needs.

And yet, I feel incredible optimism, hope and energy. For I believe that we have an amazing natural resource that is growing and can be tapped for many years to come.

I am part of the demographic which has the opportunity to change the social landscape of the future. I believe there is a great spiritual need and moral necessity for redefining retirement and our growing longevity with “returnment”. I define “returnment” as “the act of giving back or returning in some small way what the world has given you”. I like this new word because it captures not only our new age of life but the psychological and spiritual needs of this time of life, too.

What I, and others face, at this juncture in our lives is a critical choice in values. Do I want to spend the last third of my life engaged in traditional retirement: pursuing solely self interests and individual desires, becoming a better and better consumer? Or would my life be more enriched through enriching the lives of others? I have come to endorse the words of Albert Einstein when he said “Many times a day I realize how much my own inner and outer life is built on the labors of other men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give and return as much as I have received”.

I believe to live our later years uninvolved and unengaged is not only unrewarding but unacceptable. As Goethe said,” Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough. We must do.”

Just imagine if only a portion of the three million people retiring each year were to pursue a life of “returnment”. What problems could be addressed? How many children’s lives would be different? What new kind of energy would be created? What level of hope?

Perhaps through returnment, we boomers have one more social movement in us.