Taking care of your children, taking care of your parents
"Honour your father and your mother”.
The fifth commandment is about respect between generations.
"Then you will be blessed..."
The only commandment with a promise.
It is also the last of the first set of five commandments that are very fundamental in nature.
The first five appear to determine the framework for the next five.
Lance Bovenberg talks enthusiastically about the fifth commandment. The 48-year old professor specializes in pensions and the graying of society. According to him all aspects of the economy win when the Ten Commandments are observed, but it is the fifth that might quite well play a key role: it is the basis of the so called intergenerational contract, that among others is at the heart of our social security system.
A healthy relationship between generations is of great economic interest : people don't have to worry about old age. And whoever takes cares of his own parents, sets the right example for his own children. Thus the care for each other is passed on from one generation to the next, with the blessing of a long and carefree life as a result.
Thus you are a caregiver twice in your life: for your children and for your parents. And you're also the receiver of care twice in your life: as child and as elder. This two-sided solidarity is in economic sense of incredible importance.
Young and old are the human capital of the economy. The young form the basis of the knowledge economy, the older ones contribute especially through their vast experience. And people are dependent upon the care of the younger and the older generations when as a child or as an elder they are in a vulnerable, dependent phase of life.
As economist Bovenberg knows how important the 'contract' between generations is, such as he sees formulated in the fifth commandment.
"If people do not conform to these unwritten agreements, a society will need to make all sorts of laws and rules for everything. However no amount of laws can do justice to the complexity of life and much of it often difficult to enforce. That in turn leads in real life to - as the economists call it- high transaction costs."
The further we get off-track with this commandment the higher the 'transaction cost'.
The heart of the matter in the fifth commandment is 'solidarity' and 'stewardship'.
"It teaches respect for old age, for the previous generation passes on norms and values. At the same time the commandment teaches us that we cannot be autonomous: we do not come into our own unless we relate to others and other generations and in those relationships take responsibility for each other."
Respect for old age has come under pressure, observes Bovenberg. Since the 70's we have created a disposable culture. Early retirement, side-lining people through other means etc. all have led to the fact that shelf life of the older generation in the labourforce has been starkly reduced.
While we live longer!
Employers, but also the employees, have -in the past decennia- forgotten the importance of the human factor. Which is understandable when society is looked at through an economic lens.
Which is costly for the economy.
In the beginning of the 80's people thought that early retirement of the older ones would lower the unemployment rate, but in reality the truth is that countries with the lowest pensioning age do not automatically have lower unemployment.
Which makes sense: with fewer people working, labour gets more expensive on account of higher social costs. And when labour is expensive, employers try to do with fewer employees.
The fifth commandment points out that justice has to be done to the older people.
The government has taken over the care for our parents through Old Age Pension and CPP. Older people without children enjoy a protected retirement that way. But the care for each other goes further than a good public, financial arrangement for old age; there is also a caring role that goes beyond the financial and is and should be inclusive of the parental community.”
Visiting the sick and the lonely ones can be seen as an extension of this commandment and in its own right will alleviate many of the ailments that society experiences at the present time. It is crucial in this to have men and women work together , share responsibilities also with regards to leaving room in their work to care for a sick relative.
So a church community could also be a way of finding out where the sick and lonely are.
Flexible hours are needed to enable people to take it upon themselves to live up to these expectations. This is going to be a recurring theme in the future, especially now that women over fifty are becoming more a part of the workforce. Employers will have to consider the fact that our society is moving away from the 'breadwinner model'. Decennialong they have been spoiled with that model, for they could always count on employees who for forty years would spend 40 hours a week on their jobs. Through the feminisation of work employees will in the future combine work and the caregiving. Which demands a more flexible approach to managing the employment process."
Respect for the older generation does not limit itself to caregiving, but also expresses itself in the cherishing of talents of those that are there. Keeping them involved as a source of experience and wisdom is of benefit to all.
For the older ones themselves it is also better not to stop working too early, according to Bovenberg. He wants to employ the so called silent labour reserve between 55 and 75 in a more meaningful way in the workplace.
"God asks of us that we develop our talents on account of ourselves as well as others and that is not time limited. It is for a reason that so many older people are active in volunteer work; man was created to work in relationship, to want to contribute. Research shows that people often don't get any happier because of their pensioning. Especially men often miss the structure of work to come into their own and to develop their talents."