This is the Duty of Our Generation

72-year-old Yamada calls his generation to service Photo credit: BBC News
72-year-old Yamada calls his generation to service
Photo credit: BBC News

Yesterday my kids and I drove past a retirement center. My oldest son asked me what it was.

I tried to explain the concept of retirement to him: that many people save money throughout their lifetime with the hope that they won’t have to work to support themselves when they are older.

I struggled a little internally as I spoke to my kids. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with the idea of retirement. My husband and I “save money for retirement.” I think it’s actually wise to prepare for a day when perhaps our bodies are too tired or our minds too feeble to produce enough income to live on.

The tension for me comes from sorting through some of the pervasive views on retirement in our modern American culture: the (sometimes subtle) sense of entitlement that can creep in when we think about our twilight years. A popular sentiment in our country is, “I’ve worked hard for decades. Now I deserve some time for myself, to do what I want to do. This is my rightful expectation.” 

Contrast this with a TIME article my friend Dennis posted on Facebook, about how a group of elderly Japanese are responding to their country’s nuclear disaster, following the March 11 tsunami and earthquake:

“Composed of nearly 250 retired engineers and other professionals as of June 1, the group is volunteering to tread where few dare to go: the forbidden zone around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which is still leaking radiation after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the facility. Skilled Veterans Corps was founded by Yasuteru Yamada, a 72-year-old retired engineer who believes that it is the older segment of society that should expose itself to potentially deadly radiation, thereby protecting younger Japanese from long-term health risks…‘This is the duty of our generation to the next generation and the one thereafter…’”

I’m so inspired by these Japanese seniors, who instead of feeling, “I’ve paid my dues…these last years are going to be all about me,” are willing to lay down their lives on behalf of future generations. To read more about their story, click here.

What dreams do you have for your “retirement years?”

One thought on “This is the Duty of Our Generation

  1. what a great post topic! i thought when i read about his generation's sense of duty, “I don't think any group of people in america feel like the have any sense of duty at all towards any other group of people.” i can think of individuals (most moms for their own babies, certain husbands to provide for their families, etc.), but not groups. this article just made me think of the individualistic culture of america compared to the japanese (mostly asian?) community-oriented culture.
    and i have no retirement plans…


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