“THE RETIRED (TRY TO) STRIKE BACK, Or, How to Fight the Evil Empire of Age” comes out of today’s headlines and chronicles the emotional, roller-coaster journey of four senior couples trying to prove they’re still vital in a society that has relegated them to the sidelines for the simple sin of being old.
They decide to make a small educational video to help seniors living alone meet and form new relationships and deal with their personal and emotional issues, including health, money, sex and the belief that society would be happier if they just stayed quiet.
But as the movie progresses, the couples realize that seniors – and they themselves – are like other people. They also hunger for social changes that would improve the quality of life for their families’ future. But facing their mortality, they grasp that seniors possess special attributes to achieve this goal: a need to make change happen soon, get their last acts right, and cooperate as they now recognize that no group can have all the right answers for society. Seniors can become a new source of leadership for a polarized, divided country
A Novel In Episodes, “The Retired Try to Strike Back” grew out of a weekly column, based on real experiences, that appeared for a year in the Westchester Guardian and is authored by a national leader in social change, Allan Luks. He has had four books published, one of which, “Will America Sober Up?” was hailed as a “blueprint” for America by the Times Book Review. Luks also coined the internationally recognized expression, “helper’s high,” in his best-selling book, “The Healing Power of Doing Good.” Today he is a founder and director of the Fordham University Graduate School Center for Nonprofit Leaders, where he teaches about public policy change. He is also widely recognized as an expert in volunteerism and a nonprofit leader, and travels the country speaking on these topics.
A complimentary preview of the first four chapters are provided here. Please click “Chapters 1 through 4″ under “Categories” on the right of this page.
Bob, who directed advertising commercials before he retired, repeats again to his three friends, “You know how it was for me. The president took me to lunch and said, ‘Bob, you’ve earned the right to rest. We want to help you.’ Perfect for advertising, the world’s microphone and camera, as our president liked to say. Except what they really were thinking was: Get the guy out already. His old thinking may embarrass us with a client. We’ll also save his salary– Listen, we can’t let ourselves forget what happened to us. And we promised we wouldn’t.”
Bob and the other men, all in their late sixties, married, friends since high school, have been meeting regularly in the late afternoons at certain inexpensive diners around New York City that they’ve learned aren’t crowded at that time. They brood over coffee and dessert for a couple of hours, discussing their frustrations, while the diner’s manager and waiters after awhile give hints for them to leave, returning to clean the table, restock sugar packets, fill salt and pepper shakers.
The men have decided that they want to develop a project that’ll give them work and prove they’re still vital, since no one wants to hire them individually. “With all our experiences, we have to be able to create something useful,” they often repeat to each other.
Today, they are in a small diner in Brooklyn, near the Brooklyn Bridge and not far from the trendy DUMBO area filled with successful, young professionals. The occupied tables have either gray-haired men and women, who look retired, or women with young children, whom they might’ve just picked up at school. The mothers represent the neighborhood’s turn-around; the new residents whom the diner clearly doesn’t want to be chased away by senior men who appear to have no place to go.
“These mothers are so attractive,” says Bob. “In high school, we were picky about girls but now every woman looks beautiful to me.” He laughs. “People believe that the retired lose their standards. How we dress, how clean we look–so why not with women too?” He laughs again. “What does it matter now? It’s not like these women are checking us out.”
“I disagree–we can still attract eyes,” says Kenny, a former high school literature teacher and occasional amateur actor, who often smoothes his thick hair while talking–
“If we could return to what we’re here to discuss,” says Myron, “maybe today we can finally agree on a project that we can unite behind.”
He is a former life insurance company actuary, who usually wears a well-pressed sports jacket, like today, while his friends favor wash and wear pants or jeans and a dress shirt from when they worked, and Bob normally just switches between several blue, worn, multi-pocket work shirts.
“You all said you’re interested in the grant proposal I emailed you,” Myron continues. He looks at the other three men and then rests his coffee cup on the table. “Because of me, you three have life insurance policies and have kept them with my former company. The papers I sent you, and here are more copies, are from the new program inviting policyholders to apply for grants for projects to help the retired become healthier. You know my idea, we develop a film to show the retired how to stay vital. Because vitality produces health. We can make a nice, little movie, if we get the grant. I say we go for it.”
Myron pauses. “Bob has always lectured us about the power of movies to be a spark for social change. The grants are for ten thousand dollars a person. I’m not eligible but I could have influence if you three put in a proposal. Let’s apply.”
“I read your papers and I feel your pressure,” says Bob. “But I told you on the phone. I’m possibly interested–but thirty thousand dollars is about enough money to shoot a high school talent show rehearsal. I directed a lot of commercials when I was in advertising. With so little money, we’ll make a film that no one will look at, or, if they do, will reinforce the bias that the retired can’t produce anything important and should stay on the sidelines.”
“I’m not creative, I’m an actuary, a number’s person,” argues Myron. “But Bob, give this idea a chance. There are like forty million people over
sixty-five. Many are widows and widowers wanting to date again. Many have to be nervous about how to meet someone new, how to discuss the health and financial problems they may have now.
“I can see a film that encourages and guides seniors on going out and finding a relationship. A film that shows them–and everyone–that seniors are still very vital. We’ll show that by connecting to someone, the stress that people living alone have would decrease and their health improve. I think we can win a grant to do this film. Bob, you’d be our director, and the film wouldn’t have to be slick–just honest–because the number of potential buyers is huge. I already have a name: The Retired Person’s Dating Film.”
“I like it,” Kenny says. “In the film, we could act out issues that the retired who live alone have in making relationships.”
“Mr. Former Actor, if we do an animated film,” says Bob, “would you still be in favor of this under-funded movie project–?”
“Bob, Kenny’s not thinking about promoting himself,” interrupts Steven. “We’re beyond that now, can’t you at least agree on that?”
A former social worker, Steven usually protects a friend being criticized, which the others recognize as Steven’s way of showing himself that he’s still needed.
Bob offers a large smile to Steven and Kenny, and Kenny replies with his own large smile to Bob.
“Bob, again, this market is so large,” Myron continues. “Since the film will be dealing with establishing relationships, that also includes advising the lonely retired about the right way to return to sex–how quickly and what’s expected with a new partner. Discussing sex never hurts the sales of any film. Bob, this video could be big and we need you to direct it.”
“I understand the actuary in you already counting a few dollars from making the film,” says Bob. “That’s numbers. But sex and the actuary?”
“Maybe I believe I still see myself as becoming something more,” laughs Myron. “But the three of you don’t? But if we can’t prove it soon.”
Myron pauses. “Me, the short, uninteresting actuary–I’ve overheard too many people say that. But now, maybe I, maybe all of us, can strike back at all the senior doubters.”
Kenny laughs. “If we can’t make the film soon, we’ll become too old to remember whatever lines we write for ourselves in the script.”
“We should strike back now,” adds Steven. “If we think we have a chance.”
(Chapter 2 under “Categories” to the top, right of page)
Under Myron’s supervision, the friends apply to their life insurance company’s grant program, explaining that they want to make an educational film that will give advice to the great number of the retired living alone–the fourteen million widows, widowers and those who are separated–on how to date again and establish new relationships.
The friends tell themselves that the film also will demonstrate their own vitality. “The film will show that we, and seniors generally, can be very active,” says Steven. “I really think so,” he adds.
They’re letting themselves become enthusiastic–with Bob still not completely convinced–and are meeting this afternoon at a diner in Queens, believing that this week seniors receive a fifty percent discount. Except Myron, who told them about the discount, didn’t hear the radio commercial say it was only for dinner.
They unsuccessfully protest to the waitress that the ad wasn’t clear, their Danish and coffee should be covered, with Myron first removing his hearing aid so the waitress can’t accuse him of faulty hearing. The unmoved, victorious waitress leaves, and they’re silent–
Bob continues his worries about the film idea, even though the proposal has been submitted. “I know I’m repeating myself. But the biggest grant we can get is $30,000. I’ve told you, that’s far too little. I see us–if we get the money–ending up with a film that everyone expects from the retired: plain and dull. And I’ll be the director. I still have a mirror upstairs that tries to get me to look into it.”
“When I taught literature in high school, I consulted on educational films, which were low budget but still came out interesting,” argues Kenny. And a big reason was that the teachers were the actors and didn’t get paid. It’s the same with us.”
“Kenny, we’re not talking about a film on how to read great books,” Bob replies, “but how to successfully bring together real people, including the when, where and how of sleeping with each other.”
“Advertising made you cynical,” says Kenny. “You need to try new clothes.”
Bob’s face shifts into his accusing smile: “Kenny, if we do the film, are you thinking you’ll be the main actor, because of your acting experience? You’ll be the one who’ll show how to correctly meet and romance a woman who’s in her sixties or seventies? And then Hollywood will finally notice you for a romantic lead?”
Kenny has a large, handsome face, and his hair is only partially gray, though recently he’s gotten thin–not on purpose, he
says–making him appear slightly unbalanced. “Bob, why do you still wear your work shirts from your directing days? I say you still really want to direct a film, but you don’t want to admit it. Bob, our little movie will be great for everyone.”
Bob’s smile continues: “Imagine a scene in the film of a retired man and woman, who’ve just met and are wondering what’ll happen in bed and whether they first should reveal any performance problems they might have. This is sensitive, it has to be right. They’ve entered a bedroom. Kenny, you’re our male actor for this scene. We’ve all seen your skills as an amateur actor with clothes on. But now you’re undressing, just partially, but our viewers–if anyone ever buys the film–see your little sagging stomach and rear. Can we make this a tense scene that’ll hold viewers or do they look away from the not very appetizing bodies?” Bob continues to smile–
Steven replies, “Retired people aren’t expected to have everything about them still in attractive proportion.”
The others have nicknamed Steven, The Social Work Defender, and he continues: “Bob, you’ve complained so often about the phoniness of the commercials you used to shoot. Being without job pressures now, we’re free to make the most truthful movie. Our aging bodies are the truth, right? We can still be attractive in our own way.”
Bob stays quiet.
“Bob, keep an open mind,” adds Myron. “I’ve started collecting information about the retired who live alone, so we can use real data to shape the film if we receive the grant. It’s the actuary still in me. Listen: Most retired closely watch their dollars. But many are confused about whether they should spend more freely when they first meet someone to prove that money worries don’t control them. Our film can offer important advice in this area, a lot of areas–if we can agree on the answers.
“I found surveys saying that seniors can be sexually active into their eighties. But what if one or the other is physically unable to do it, which is a question you’ve brought up? When do they admit this? Bob, we’re not talking about you directing a short commercial under sponsor pressure. But a film that can help a lot of people change. Our film can give many seniors the knowledge and confidence to enjoy life more.”
Bob waits. “My doctor likes to tell me not to read long books, that I should switch to short stories. That’s his joke for older patients. Should I now tell him I may make a film, if we get the grant, that’ll show seniors living alone how to live happier and better? Except I’m starting without a script, or knowing what are the different problems that the film needs to deal with, or how long the movie will take to make. After I leave his office, will my short-story doctor laugh?”
(Chapter 3 under “Categories” to the top, right of page)
The friends are excited, including Bob, who repeats, “It’s no joke now. We have to make sure it doesn’t become one.”
They received the grant.
They meet at another new diner today, continually rotating locations, since waiters make it clear that they don’t enjoy having a table occupied at least a couple of hours, even though the men meet in the slow afternoon hours and believe that their tip is generous since they order just coffee and dessert.
Today, a manager approaches, after the check has been on their table for over an hour, and says, “Don’t be offended, but my customers see four older men sitting around, and think this is a place where the retired with nothing to do can come and not order very much. That’s not good publicity. If you could finish soon, I’d appreciate it.”
As the manager walks away, they take turns complaining: “He’s stupid. When we complete our film project and if it’s successful, there could be news stories that’d name the different diners where we met and did our planning. . . . All diners have down times–which is when we usually show up–and should want to attract the retired who are planning projects. . . . You think there are a lot of seniors like us who’ve actually started somewhat big projects? . . . Maybe, at least they have ideas they’re talking about.”
Kenny finally says, “Let’s focus our thoughts. As I was saying, seniors receive plenty of info on exercise, nutrition, seeing a doctor, but so little on how to successfully meet each other. Bob, with you as director, we’ll produce the best how-to educational dating video for seniors. And let me tell you, since I’m the only one who’s done acting, even if they were amateur productions. I’ve had some partial clothes-off experiences on stage. If there has to be a little nudity when we deal with the sexual relationship part, I mean, like taking my shirt off, and I’ve said this before, that won’t be uncomfortable for me–“
“Hold it, hold it,” says Bob. “Yes, O.K., we’re going ahead with the film, and we know, Kenny, that acting’s always been your dream. But Kenny, after we all retired–had to retire–you were the one who said that each of us should write down the dreams that we never accomplished. Then we should get together and tear these papers up. That’d show ourselves we shouldn’t feel bad by our past ambitions that never happened. But we never did that and look what’s happening: You’re now straining to be a half-naked actor to finally get noticed and maybe go to Hollywood? I’d hate for our video to be nicknamed by critics ‘Dreams of the Ridiculous Retired.’”
“Lay off Kenny,” says Steven. “Our film could get publicity and keep your movie directing dreams alive too.”
“No more big dreams for me,” answers Bob. “The world needs cynical realists. That’s my specialty now.”
“You’re happy being the cynical, complaining senior?” asks Steven.
“Do you think our little film will breathe oxygen into your dream of helping people in a new, big way?” Bob replies quickly.
“Both of you, stop,” interrupts Myron. “But Bob, I keep reminding you, the numbers are on our side. With millions of widows and widowers and divorcees and the never-married living alone. If our movie is just minimally good, a large number can meet each other because of its advice. And I bet all four of us will be at least slightly noticed on some media. Whether we want to or not.”
They’re silent for a moment–
“Myron, as we start thinking about success, and we should, well, I do have a numbers concern,” says Steve. “It’s from the background data sheets you gave us. There are far more senior women than senior men our age who are concerned about dating. That obviously makes it harder for women to meet someone. I’m saying this because we’re four men making the movie–“
“Mr. Social Worker, that’s why we love you,” Bob interrupts. “We don’t have a complete concept yet for the film, what advice will be in it, or even a broad script outline. And we just have a thirty thousand dollar grant. Yet you’re already worried that our film won’t be politically correct?”
“No, accurate,” Steve replies.
But Bob shakes his head at Steve. “Yes, The Retired Person’s Dating Film. Oh, to be retired and think we still have a chance to do something big and to do it right and trying to understand what right
means–while we hear our clocks ticking. While we can still hear the ticks.”
“Bob, doing the film will peel off your cynicism,” says Myron. “What does annoy me is the insurance company telling us that if we bring in revenue over thirty thousand dollars, that we have to donate it to the different senior centers they listed. I mean, can’t seniors also be expected to want new money to enjoy themselves? As if that’s not still important to us.”
“Cynical Bob agrees,” says Bob. “And why not also call the film: How My Friend Stopped Being A Short, Old Actuary?”
(To be continued…)
They rent the meeting room in the back of a diner in downtown Manhattan, where they’d previously occupied a small booth in the busy front section. The men pay for this private room to prove to themselves that they’re moving ahead, they’re doers. They also enjoyed seeing the face of this manager, who used to stare at them when they entered the diner, now smile and nod to them when they asked about renting space. The two hundred dollar rental fee is their first expense under the grant they won.
“I have a great idea,” says Kenny. “A long time ago when I took acting classes, we’d be given a conflict situation to discuss. We’d break into different groups to write down our feelings and shape them into a very short play about people trying to deal with that conflict. The class would vote on how well each group’s play revealed the thoughts and emotions people would have in that crisis. We called them our Feeling and Thought plays.
“We should do this ourselves. What if one of us lost a wife? Horrible. But we can imagine that and discuss thoughts and emotions about going out to meet someone new, or if we were too nervous to try. We can interview each other, and friends, and speak to people at senior centers, about their responses. This way we can prepare a script–and prepare ourselves to act in the film. But, and this is important, we also want ideas from our wives. And I’m going to repeat what Steve said: We need to involve our wives in preparing the script and to act alongside us.”
Myron answers, “We’ll obviously act for free, and I realize we also wouldn’t have to pay our wives to act, and I understand our need to hold down costs. But the film will deal with issues like sex. The data shows most retirees believe sex is important. People over sixty and even seventy say they have sex two, three times a month. Do we believe that survey? I’m not asking any of you to reply. But being friends, how honestly can we and our wives openly discuss personal issues, like sex, in the film?”
“Myron, you’re in charge of the film’s budget,” Kenny argues, “you’ll have free female as well as male actors and script writers–“
”Kenny,” interrupts Bob, “I wonder if your motivation to use our wives, instead of searching to hire inexpensive but professional actresses, is so you’ll be the only experienced actor in the film and have the best chance of getting noticed–if critics for educational videos actually look at our film.”
“I disagree, Bob,” says Steven. “If our cast is four real couples it’s a selling point that could get the film publicity, because reality shows are in.”
Bob shrugs. “Our film won’t be much of a success, if viewers see our wives or any of us as reluctant actors, looking away from the camera or having to be in shadows. I’m not directing a film that’s a failure from the start. So I guess we’re split two-two on asking our wives. Kenny and Steven for and Myron and I against.”
“People say when they see older couples alone in restaurants,” insists Steven, “they often aren’t talking. Like they’ve talked themselves out. We used to discuss that in social work counseling for older
couples. I think being in the cast with our wives, having to talk together about the film, will help our own relationships.”
“I’m listening,” Bob replies. “O.K., if Myron agrees, we’ll tell our wives we need female actors in the movie. Don’t emphasize, of course, that one reason is because they’ll work for free. Describe all the possible scenes for the video that we’ve been discussing, including sex, which probably means showing one or two kisses. And if our wives reject
us–well, there are plenty of retired women who are frustrated actors who’ll work for free or at a minimal cost. Although will we as couples then have even less to say to each other in the restaurant?”
Bob sits back in his chair, watching his senior friends still wondering about relationships.
(To be continued…visit this page often for information on publication date of novel)
Your newborn’s unmarked skin, its perfect smile, the innocent sounds meant just for you. You commit to protect your child’s well-being. But how well can you?
Much of your baby’s health isn’t programmed in its genes but will be determined by outside influences. So you tell yourself that you will set an example by showing how to eat right, exercise, not smoke or abuse drugs.
But as your child grows, how successful will you be against the challenges your adolescent will feel from peers, social media, advertising, and the constant engagement with electronic devices? And what if you fail?
One out of every three children will develop diabetes during their lifetime because of being overweight or obese. And the chance of being overweight among 12 to 19 year-olds has tripled in the past 20 years.
Here are some additional federal government’s statistics: Nearly 30 percent of Americans are considered completely sedentary, meaning they do less than 30 minutes of any physical activity, which negatively affects their health and how long they will live.
But self-esteem along with adult guidance, can effectively take on peer pressure.
So how can you help build your youngsters’ self-esteem, early on, before they will be challenged? Not all youth will be good-looking, good students, strong athletes, have winning personalities, and know how to dress well. Low self-esteem creates awkwardness and discomfort–and many youth as well as adults–escape these feelings by eating excessively or distancing themselves from others or take drugs.
Yet every youngster can excel at one activity that research shows does increase self-esteem: helping others.
The thank-you’s, hugs, smiles, and handshakes received from the individual they’ve helped send a message to the young helper: “People like you, they need you, and you can have a positive affect on people. You play an important role in their lives”
In my book, “The Healing Power of Doing Good”, I created the term “helpers high,” which is used internationally to describe the strong, uplifting feelings experienced by those who help others on a regular basis (about 100 hours a year) and have personal contact with those they help. The majority of these volunteers–of all ages–report feelings of increased self-esteem.
The big challenge for youth to volunteer is getting started. Because it’s doing something different, most youngsters feel uncomfortable at first and are not driven to volunteerism.
But that brings up the commitment you made to your newborn. Parents say they can’t think of activities for the entire family to participate in. However, volunteering is one you can do together and boost everyone’s self-esteem.
Family volunteering is a way to fight threats to your childrens’ health. Become part of “The Healing Power of Doing Good.”
If you’ve seen how volunteering can help the self-esteem of youth, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Explaining how to experience better health can often be frustrating,
Can I do better telling you how to earn more money?
“The research is clear, you’ll live longer,” I emphasize when I lecture about the health benefits gained by certain kinds of volunteering that reduce stress. When discussing my study involving more that 3,300 persons—and where the term “helper’s high” was created and first introduced—I describe the physical and emotional health gains enjoyed from helping strangers regularly. This study was the forerunner for Washington’s 2007 report on the “Health Benefits of Volunteering.” That document dramatically declared that there was now enough research to show “that those who volunteer have lower mortality rates.”
Yet the longer-life promise has created just a moderate growth in personal-contact volunteering, which produces emotional highs and endorphins, that buffer stress. That is what is now prompting me to talk about how helping others can lead to employment and also earning more money on the job. Here are four reasons why volunteerism benefits your bank account as well as your body:
–The interview: Job interviewers say they need to find employees who can deal with diverse groups in our ever more heterogeneous work force. Volunteering is one of the few ways you have to prove you have that experience.
–Hard working: There are the unemployed who continue to search for a job, and there are those who, while searching for employment, can describe their volunteer activities during this tough period. Which applicants can better show they go the extra mile?
–Creativity: An important but difficult attribute for the employer to identify. The applicant who volunteers can discuss the difficulties of reaching out and getting through to the poor, the immigrant, the school dropout, the disabled—whomever she or he is working with. There is nothing more creative than being able to affect the behavior of another person, to counsel, influence and mentor them in a positive way.
–Trust: The concern of every employer about every new potential employee. Someone donating their time to help others appears to the interviewer to be someone far less likely to take advantage of people or a situation. They are deemed more reliable and trustworthy.
In conclusion, perhaps you feel that you are so young that the ability to add years to your life by helping others isn’t a compelling enough advantage at your age. Then consider volunteering, becoming a mentor, or providing a helping hand to others as a way to obtain employment or receive more recognition on the job, that could lead to more income. These are challenges facing everyone in the midst of this recession and especially confronting the unemployed younger person.
And along with that paycheck and the path to a potential career, the research will throw in that you’ll live longer by experiencing the helper’s high.
If you have found new employment or have been recognized in the workplace because you have helped others through volunteerism, please let me know. Email me at email@example.com.
At the same time that our recession-weakened nation experiences slashes in public services, social work graduate students at Fordham University are being trained to identify and implement low or no-cost ways to help the most vulnerable in our society. Social workers have become an important force in supporting and protecting at-risk populations, with services that translate into benefits to our society, despite the Great Recession.
David Yassky, Taxi and Limousine Commissioner and former City Councilmember, spoke recently to students in one session of the course that I teach, Advocacy and Public Policy, at Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service. “It’s always hard to get social changes approved, but I don’t think it’s any harder now to get change, as long as it doesn’t cost a lot of money. And you, as social workers, through your daily experiences, can identify such solutions and fight to get them adopted,” Yassky told my class.
In the 1980s, I led the adoption of New York City’s law requiring posters in bars and restaurants warning about drinking during pregnancy–which resulted in national legislation–and another law preventing job discrimination against recovered alcoholics. Several years ago, I was also instrumental in establishing a state law requiring mentoring programs to inform parents about whether or not they did background checks on the mentors. I am most proud that these laws have become national models.
Each one of my second year graduate students in the course Advocacy and Public Policy, is required to identify and advocate for a new, small public policy that can improve society at little cost. Although the recession affects all of us, the demands on specific individuals have become greater, and the need for social services grows even greater, My students have had no problem finding these issues and their public policy solutions.
For example, here are some of their concepts:
-Mental health seminars in high schools so students can identify warning signs in themselves and others and prevent violent behaviors
-Requiring people who are HIV positive to inform those they are sexually active with
-Have public TV and radio regularly post social indexes on how well or poorly society is solving its social ills and invite public involvement where changes are most needed
-Offering affordable transportation for low-income cancer patients, who now may be late or even miss appointments
-Stopping users of suboxone, a methadone-like drug, from selling their supply to get others high
-A requirement that public housing conditions that cause asthma be fixed within a month, rather than a year;
-Allowing pregnant women to avoid going through school metal detectors.
As someone who has who led nonprofit agencies for over two decades, I understand that social workers are required by their profession to identify solutions to public problems and advocate for their implementation. For the disadvantaged, who are most affected by the Great Recession, the initiatives developed by social workers offer a balance in these challenging situations, and proves that optimism for the future is still possible.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the position of ‘social worker’ is one of the fastest growing occupations in the country. However, social workers starting out today have high tuition bills, are faced with a high cost of living, and are concerned that their charitable employers may be cutting back. So there is pressure on them to just do the work they are employed to do and not go beyond to pursue changes in public policies.
The goal of the Fordham program is to show my second-year graduate students that they are one vital counterweight to the Great Recession.
Our society’s downhill ride should be getting scarier for me.
Social Security is spending more than it takes in. Stressful unemployment can affect anyone. Violent extremists can hurt any of us. A giant trade deficit might lead to a trade war that can shatter everyone’s well-being.
Scary because there are no united forces pushing back with answers. No consensus is forming around new policies and the need to make reasonable sacrifices. So the public and its officials do what frightened people naturally do: limit their concern to just protecting their own interest groups.
Except I stay optimistic. Reason: My daily work brings me into contact with people involved in finding answers to overcome major problems, who will compromise to achieve these programs, and know they have to personally give up benefits to achieve progress. If the work of these people became far better known, it would connect with a large part of the population that also knows naturally that unity, not self-protection, is the way to stop our downhill slide.
I see, feel and touch this optimism because I am director of a center, sponsored by a university’s graduate schools of business and social service, that trains present and future nonprofit leaders. About ten percent of each training program involves participants who have limited income, are personally responsible for the $500 tuition, and give up three consecutive Saturdays. Why? They want to establish programs to help create a better tomorrow, and to do this now are ready to fight the battle against today’s Great Recession and its effects.
One student is a paralyzed man who severed his spinal column in an accident. He is creating an organization to find affordable housing for young people, in wheelchairs, who have limited income and often are placed in nursing homes—costing $15,000 a month because wheelchair accessible living can’t be found for them in regular housing.
Another program attendee, a woman school volunteer, shocked by the violence among high school boys and their low graduation rate, wants to create a charity to give inner-city boys a program every Saturday to help them improve themselves and avoid violence.
Seeing how the death of her mother attracted 500 people to the funeral because of admiration for her mother’s work as a nurse, one class member is raising money to create a nonprofit to send poor youth to nursing schools.
Walking by many homeless each day, a participant is trying to develop a project to recruit individual counselors for the homeless.
After seeing the lack of health care for the elderly, one of the students wants to develop a nonprofit to increase the number of health care graduates who work with older persons.
A woman whose poor, ill mother got lost in the health care system wants to initiate a program that will provide advocates for the elderly.
A couple’s trip to Cambodia showed them that the country has a limited future without better education, and they hope to develop schools there.
All of their stories involve the need to fight against odds, cooperate, and be willing to personally sacrifice to achieve the goal of helping others.
It’s incumbent on universities and colleges to hold unbiased, fact-gathering sessions around the issues affecting our nation’s future, and at these gatherings provide a platform for participants in the various social service programs to tell their stories.
Then young adults would hopefully become more involved with political groups and associations and encourage these groups to accept the concept of struggle, sacrifice and cooperation, which economists and other researchers keep saying the nation needs to confront the recession.
The people who will inherit the future need to become a resource today and begin to rally support for the unity necessary to push back against our downhill slide.
I discovered that research I had done on altruism was discussed on IslamOnline, a website reporting on news and culture from a Muslim viewpoint. I was surprised because my work studied American volunteers, and today’s unsettling news keeps reporting how so many Muslims resist influences from non-Islamic societies.
Yet IslamOnline recognized that helping others is a very strong call common to all major religions. And this shared value offers this country an important tactic in its struggle against Muslim extremism.
The charge that the non-Islamic, developed world is a threat to Muslim life fuels extremists and importantly, restrains many Muslims from speaking out against them, as the post 9/11 research has emphasized. To counter this, our government has been trying to find and communicate, without much admitted success, common values to the Muslim world, beyond just the very important–though not completely shared–value of women’s rights.
An addition we can make to this dialogue is about a not very well-known aspect of American volunteering: non-Muslims helping needy Muslims. These are not one-time helping acts, such as cleaning a park together, but involve ongoing, close, almost surrogate relative relationships.
I see this helping at the mentoring organization I directed for 20 years and it also happens at so many other volunteer centers. There was an Egyptian woman, for example, whose twins stopped going to high school after Sept. 11 because they feared being seen as different. She came to our agency, and each child received a non-Muslim mentor, who became a special friend, got them to feel good about themselves, and return to school. At a meeting, this Muslim mother began to shout, “Only in America, only in America.”
We had a fifteen-year-old Muslim girl from Bangladesh with many personal problems. She was unhappy, had no friends. Her mentor was a Catholic woman, whose parents were from the Philippines. The one-on-one bonding took; the girl’s ability to feel close to others grew; she returned to school.
These relationships lasted at least a year, though often longer, with constant getting together. While we had matched Muslim volunteers with Muslim youth, at one meeting, leaders of a Queens center for Afghan families explained their preference to have all their youngsters receive non-Muslim volunteers. They said that would show them that their new society truly wants to accept them–and that they can still be fully practicing Muslims.
We have created these long-term volunteer relationships with families from Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, the Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, Guyana. This doesn’t mean that all Muslim families are able to quickly accept non-Muslim help. We had a youngster who dropped out of high school because he felt being Muslim meant he couldn’t be accepted. We found a non-Muslim volunteer for the boy; the two of them immediately liked each other. But then the father, who didn’t live at home, heard what was happening and forbid the family to have any non-Muslim relationships.
Still, by our government and public becoming aware and starting to discuss stories how American volunteers are helping needy Muslims change their lives while preserving their religion and culture, an important contribution will be made to a dialogue needing and struggling to be heard.