When you call it a day

Is retirement the ugliest word in your dictionary?

Tajamul Hussain
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 11 2017 10:35PM | Updated Date: Jan 11 2017 10:35PM
When you call it a day

Retirement is the ugliest word in the language... withdrawal from active engagement in one's occupation or profession; it's in fact much more. For decades the top-drawer Multinational corporation executive, the high-profile bureaucrat or the top ranking police officer wielding enormous power, influence, and front page fame, held top-notch positions, attended meetings….fawned on big shots… and attracted a horde of visitors to seek his blessings. But alas! Now his status is gone and his identity lost.

According to Max Weber, work is the central business of one’s life & the source of status and identity. It follows, therefore, the retired people that are no longer working, lose their social status. The office-job, unlike the pursuit of agriculture or shop-keeping, carries great prestige and is a respectable time-filler. For the first time in his life, as the retired person has nothing to do, he shudders about how he's going to fill his free time. Instead of juggling two or three things at once to save time, he's now spinning things out to try to fill in time. The call he expected from the authorities keen to snap up his services never came. For a while, he kept in touch with friends at work but their calls became fewer and fewer. Yesterday he’s Mr. Important. Today he's the 'Invisible Man'.

Looming behind the increasing social isolation of the modern elderly is that they’re perceived as less useful than were old people in the past. We now store knowledge in writing, and so literacy has virtually abolished the role of old people’s memories as the formerly dominant means of storing knowledge. The snail’s pace of technological change in the past meant the technologies learned by a person in childhood were still being employed unchanged 70 years later so that the technological skills of an old person remained useful. With our rapid pace of technological innovation today, technologies become outdated exponentially and the training that old people received 70 years ago is useless.  

'Retire-and-Rust' may boil down to first forgetting names; then forgetting faces; then forgetting to zip up and unzip his fly. The retiree sinks his teeth into a kebab -- and they stay there. He’s more hair in his ears, eyebrows and nose than on his head. Retirement is the spitting-image of death. It begins with denial, followed by depression, anger and eventually acceptance. Disappointed with his new life, he loses vitality & turns inactive. Abrupt loss of identity prompts him to seek more and more attention from the wife. Arguments and tears take charge of wife's life, treating her as he may have once treated his employees, offering solutions and advice when she really doesn’t want them and frequently blaming her for his own miseries. Imagine the effect of rising life expectancy and the extended period of retirement.

Men evolved as 'hunters'. Advanced farming techniques replaced chasing and hitting the target in the form of 'work' and 'sport'... both involved all the elements of hunting. The twentieth century brought 'retirement' as a big blow for men. He’s accumulated resources, status, knowledge, and skills. He still has a highly configured hunting brain, all dressed up but with nowhere to go. Not only that, he's sitting in a dark cubbyhole where no one cares about him. When he knows all the answers, nobody ever asks him questions.

Old-age pensioner deceives himself into thinking that he'll be on call to return to work to solve the problems that only he’s the knowledge and experience to fix, forgetting that ‘age-discount’ values retiree worth only 67% of a younger person. The newer generation has its own idea and solutions and now feel free to implement them and trial new ways of doing things. Even if he never much liked his work, the retired person still wants the hunting pack to need him to continue the chase. Unable to face this, he reassures himself with the belief that he'll become consultant instead... imagine the Chief Secretary ranking officer seeking re-employment as the (so-called) adviser/consultant in the government of which only a few days back he's the CEO. Alternately he may join masjid committee, area welfare committee, business or even politics.

When you're working, your day is outer-directed. When you retire, your day becomes inner-directed. Look at a section of pensioners, dressed in suit and necktie, making promenades on streets, seeking solace in visits to their old offices, haranguing furiously about their exploits and giving unsolicited advice. Nostalgically dwelling upon their past, and suffering from verbal diarrhea, the power that the old generation exercises, becomes a described kind of gerontocracy, i.e. tyranny by elderly.  For juniors/youngsters they’re a boring lot, close-minded, old-fashioned & unproductive, spending a good deal of time doing nothing. Should these pensioners realize their role as a worker is over they'll happily take over as spouse, partner, (grand) parent or friend and avoid making themselves a nuisance and getting branded as 'thorn-in-flesh'.

Hopping into another job isn't the ideal solution for the post-retirement jolts. This may be all right to those whose aim is to earn a few bucks. But the status-conscious officer often proves a misfit in his new assignment unless assured of the frills of his earlier position. Many quit jobs and take to the ego-tickling task of projecting themselves as mighty achievers. Cathartic effect of frequent visits to the funerals of dignitaries exposes one to the vanity of human wishes and helps develop a saner and balanced outlook on life. The Value of 'doing-nothing', 'just-going-along', 'listening-to-all-the-things-you-can't-hear', and 'not-bothering' is that of the best antidote to the problems of retirement. Chinese cult of leisure is marked by an abhorrence of a hypersensitive life and refusal to make soul the serf of the body. In the new scheme of things, the pranks of one's grandchildren would be more exciting than plaques commemorating career achievements/accomplishments. Taoist `high-mindedness'' of remaining "wisely idle'' will be a big relief from the culture of work.

Finally an advice to retiring man; look at the retired woman, how she maintains social networks, uses extra time available in doing things she's always done or do things that she never had time for during her working life. The woman can be the income earner, career mother, grandmother, homemaker, companion, wife, and lover at any given time, and often all at once. When she retires she continues with other facets of life and retains her identity. She simply gets on with things….. She never retires.