Schreckensszenarien des Jahres 2046 (alles ab 2020 kommt infrage, warum also nicht das Jahr meines 100. Geburtstages wählen?) muss man nicht erfinden, man muss sie nur zusammentragen. Schließlich scheint sich die Menschheit, und darunter insbesondere die sogenannte entwickelte, seit Jahren anzustrengen, dem blauen Planeten und sich selbst keine Zukunft zu schaffen. Die Zukunft ist ein Gewirr von Sackgassen: ökonomisch, ökologisch und sozial. Selbst das Faktum, dass es in unseren Breiten zu viel alte und anderswo zu viele junge Menschen gibt, bereitet scheinbar unlösbare Probleme der Überalterung einerseits und der Überbevölkerung andererseits.
Umso schwieriger ist es, ein positives Bild der Zukunft zu entwerfen. Ich habe das getan und dabei die aufblühende Bürger- und Zivilgesellschaft als Hoffnungsblume ausgestreut. Ich rede an meinem 100. Geburtstag und erzähle von der lebens- und liebenswerten Zukunft, für die sich der Einsatz lohnt, also in der Rückblende.
Lesen Sie den anhängenden Text. Er ist ein Teaser zu meinem Buch „Der Ruhestand kommt später“ (erscheint noch in diesem Jahr) und weil es ein Teaser ist, ist dies die englische Version, entnommen aus dem gerade publizierten wunderbaren Bildband des Fotografen Karsten Thormaehlen, „Mit Hundert hat man noch Träume, Happy At Hundred,“ Kehrer-Verlag, Heidelberg/Berlin 2011, erhältlich direkt beim Autor oder über den Buchhandel. Dort steht der nachfolgende Text:
Henning von Vieregge: What I’d like to say to my friends on my 100th birthday
Friday, 28.12.2046, Community Centre Mainz-Gonsenheim, 11 o’clock. The Friends of Gonsenheim with the RheinMain Foundation „Friends for Friends“, Vieregge reception
How wonderful it is that you have all come to this special birthday. I wanted to reach a hundred, and now I have. At my age, the chance of keeping a sound mind is around 75 per cent nowadays and I am happy in this case to belong to the majority. I still live at home with Angela and this is the way it shall stay to my dying day. Hard work brings its own rewards, as they say. But it doesn’t stop you from dying. My generation, the baby boomers or 68ers that were born between 1938 and 1963, are thinning out.
If I hadn’t reached a hundred, I would have missed out on seeing the democratic societies pulling themselves up by the bootstraps. Economic and ecological crises, over and under population, energy and food bottlenecks, water shortages and other unpleasantness had turned into an unmanageable mass of problems.
And what saved us? Nearly every political forecaster predicted grim times ahead, for we were inferior to the Robust regimes in China and the Arab oil countries. Even Russia, it seemed, was a long way ahead of us. But what saved us was the transformation from the parliamentary to participatory democracy. In the 1950s, Karl Popper already described the „open society“ of the 20th century; Jeremy Rifkin, „the emphatic civilisation“ a half a century later. Now both have become reality. What seemed like a distant cry in 1989 – „We are one nation“ – became certain.
The emphatic man, who would become so in the process of civilisation, sounded very different than the previously competing images of man before then. Man is not good, corrupted by civilisation and consumerism. Or: man is actually evil: he has to be protected from himself or his fellow men. And then, the third image: man has become good, transformed by the civilisation process.
The first half of my life consisted of seven turbulent years; the last leg of this phase was between 1989 and 1996. If I’d died at 50, I wouldn’t have seen how the East-West conflict finally lost its momentum and something technically new pressed itself powerfully to the forefront.
If I’d only reached 60, and had died in 2006, I’d have witnessed the first powerful evolution of digital technology: cell phones, laptops, e-mail, the office and knowledge revolution. And then there was Wikipedia, for example, the social media revolution of Facebook and Xing, and the relevance revolution of Google. And I’d have witnessed that spectacular sign of the cultural revolution between the north and south in 2001 with the collapse of the World Trade Centre.
If I’d reached 70, in other words if I’d lived to 2016, I’d have witnessed how more and more people realised that if the quality of life wasn’t going to collapse worldwide, then significantly more effort from everyone would have to be made than domestic politics in individual countries and the EU could expect.
If I’d lived until 80 in the year 2026, I’d have still witnessed decisive changes in the EU and America. We were lucky in Germany during this time to have a female politician at the top, who was loved and feared as „Iron Ursula“ and who successfully transformed the parliamentary system to a citizen’s republic against all resistance. She recognised the way the tide was turning. Her visionary pragmatism helped us move forward when things were in a critical phase. She mobilised people by encouraging their egotism: those who do the best for themselves are acting for the community. She set a new tone that didn’t scare people off but helped them instead. Her slogan, „No deed unless a good deed, or you’ll age too quickly“ became a golden rule.
The community’s interest in the capabilities of the individual grew significantly in these years: this was the only possible way to make cuts that didn’t impinge upon a new model of a good, meaningful life – quite the opposite in fact. The number of people employed here rose between 2010 and 2030, from one to two thirds of the population; among retired people, the value of unpaid work increased from a 20 per cent equivalent to pensions to over 50 per cent during the same time period; current calculations reach up to 70 per cent. Not only did unpaid work increase but paid work for the elderly also ballooned. The demographic gaps that couldn’t be closed by the 2017 measures for qualified immigrants to find work were therefore solved in this way.
Numbers of self-employed in the EU have multiplied. To many people, after full-employment ended, there was only the tiniest chance of a fulfilling work life. Nowadays, a senior career is the norm. And it consists of a mixture of paid and unpaid work. Almost each of us has become a Maecenas of time if not of money. And the rewards are handsome: appreciation and status in old age are determined according to the way individuals are committed to civic participation. That was very different 30 or 40 years ago, believe me.
Many entrepreneurs have become social entrepreneurs and have set up foundations. The borders between economics, politics, culture and science have become permeable; the employment system has become flexible including in the area of community work. For me, this new transparency between two unnecessarily isolated sectors is one of the most valuable developments in the past few years.
If I’d reached 90, or if I’d lived to 2036, I’d still have died knowing that the new four pillar building would support the state, the economy, science and civil society, in Germany, Europe and, if the next stage succeeds then worldwide. If we say that no other epoch brought us so far forward, it would be foolhardy. Historians in the coming decades, if not centuries, will be the judges of this. But it can already be said that the changes came from the bottom up and set off a second Gründerzeit. From 1880 to 1910 and between 2010 to the present day, this has been uninterrupted.
Honestly, who dares say that this birthday party is a little under par? 50 years ago, it would have been done in style. Today, wealth is defined somewhat differently. Less materialistically. Hard times make a man turn to prayer, but not only that. The pretzels are a present from me and the cider from you. Hundred-year-olds are no longer an exception so we have to save the kitty from expensive precedents. At the risk of repeating myself, I feel that the developments of the last five decades, but especially the last 30 years, have benefitted all of us, even thought they were financially difficult. They have been a profit in terms of the quality of community life.
I’ll give you an example: I’m allowed to talk today and you have to listen! It’s always a special event, especially in old age. When did we start the tradition of telling our life stories on important birthdays from 70 on in our friend’s association, one that spans three generations to our grandchildren? I was there at the beginning in any case and then every five years from 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995 and today. So, this is the seventh. It’s a good investment in our lives together, for when we talk about our lives, these are the most exciting lectures of all: they open the door to our hearts.
If this friend’s association didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. I say this with even more conviction than 30 years ago when we founded it. In the last three decades, an abundance of neighbouring friend’s associations have followed suit. They complement or even replace rotary clubs, lions and so on. They are much more immediate -– just next door– less socially homogenous, and more diverse.
I am fond of these friend’s and neighbour’s associations as they are a fountain of youth in three ways for the elderly: firstly, they provide complete spiritual and occasional physical flexibility and above all, continued and continually renewed social contacts – everything that makes life worth living and that declines in old age.
Dear friends and neighbours, you are my chosen relatives. This is not a new perspective but has grown in topicality. For families are thinning out and are mostly widely scattered, as in my case too. So, it’s all the more important to build something else up where one’s roots lie. And there’s hardly a person who doesn’t want to, and that’s understandable.
It’s a long time ago since children had to call their parents „Sie“. In families, the „Du“ form is taken for granted. And I always liked that it was taken for granted. I call it the ‘working‘ or ‘in advance‘ „Du“: we’re positively prejudiced. It’s fascinating to imagine the community of humanity in the same way as we practice it. But it also applies to our association: to keep and maintain what’s important, you have to keep changing yourself in a changing world, in the right way.
A neighbour’s association can’t thrive with just one generation. It’s not about sitting together in a cohort – anyone can do that. It can’t thrive either if it only includes one social or cultural group. It’s sometimes not easy to find joy in diversity. The association has to remain manageable and not take on too much. That is still rule number one.
We represent all generations, including the elderly and the aged. As pension funds gradually ran dry, we were forced into solidarity. But it’s not just about financial emergency funds: it´s about friendship, our whole lives long. And not everyone dies healthy.
A lifelong association of friends comes to a friend even when he or she can’t come to it. Even this idea takes a few years to be accepted and for good intentions to be transformed into action. Today, every one of us is connected to an emergency line that is part of a telephone contact system. And it complements a neighbour visiting scheme that keeps all of us alive who can’t manage alone any more. This far-reaching care and visiting scheme that operates in the whole region does not remain vital simply due to the charity and love of our friends: it is supported by the certainty that I will receive tomorrow what I give today. This way, and only in this way can we live and die where we feel at home.
Some of us, in addition to friend’s and neighbour’s associations, have set up the foundation „Friends for Friends RheinMain“. Full-time members form the organisational backbone. We need full-time members if voluntary work is to be managed in the best possible way. This concept took some getting used to as well, of course: some can’t get used to volunteers, others can’t get used to full-time members, whilst many of us can’t get used to the bumpy alternation between the two.
But this is necessary. Some things can only be done by professionals, some things can only be done with help by professionals and many things are possible without either. Some people work as volunteers to a certain extent and are paid beyond this. A basic income for everyone can only be achieved with return services. Our welfare system is open and linked to other neighbour’s associations and all organisations in the Region; that is only consequential in a sense of friendship that is not exclusive in any way.
In everyday life, changes are often hardly noticed if they are not revolutionary but evolutionary. This is also the way we see ourselves and our implementation of projects in the neighbourhood. They way in which we define neighbourhood reaches from the nearest door to a door in Africa. That’s not something that comes naturally.
To properly understand egoism, one has to think on a large scale and that includes sustainability. We have think and act locally and globally.
„Useful out of egoism“: this slogan is our watchword, guiding us as we create a database for patch workers and a NAS (Neighbour Advice Service). The waste of potential for the community in elderly friends was no longer acceptable for the community during the period of great economic crises that hit us from 2010 in fiveyear intervals.
Thus, our small association of friends always saw itself as a part of a larger movement. We are, after all, dyed in the wool 68ers. Whether we were considered right or left-wing back then, we all grew up in the same society.
We were also the ones who made sure that there was an intelligent expansion of our culture of gratitude over the last decades. If money can’t always be the currency of payment, then substitute currencies have to be found for those who don’t necessarily need money. No one can get enough of things such as affection, gratitude and appreciation.
Quality of life for all of us has witnessed a leap in value even in times of hardship. In the second half of our lives, we, the baby boomers, have paid back for the comfortable first half and not least of all; we have made a significant contribution to a better future in the whole world.
The first 40 to 50 years of people in my generation were successful and boring. A peaceful, successful life shouldn’t be looked down upon. But even if our subjective experiences were different, historians are sure to rank this period, depending on the point of view, as one of rare peace and accumulation of wealth, or of bleakness.
From 1945 to 1975: only economic growth. And thinking in black and white terms: there were goodies and baddies. The post office installed telephones with circular dials and in the office, the greatest innovation was the electronic IBM typewriter with its print ball. It didn’t make carbon copy paper obsolete.
The future was imagined as a continuation of the present or, in the case of pessimists, as a Communist, or in the best-case scenario, Italian or Yugoslavian euro-Communist zone.
The 68ers might have sensed the cracks in the perfect world of Rhineland capitalism. Their protest was loud and bold but it led nowhere. Although they were disguised in neo-Marxism, the visions were all figments of the brain.
They had no nose for technical change but they intuitively knew that technology is what drives us. But in real terms, no conclusions were made.
The generation of 68ers thought their fellow people were deluded or egotistical: that would have to change. This justified a holier than thou approach to all things, from the RAF to Cambodia. Or they became individualistic. With devastating consequences for those concerned: self-fulfilment, the end of human solidarity, crises among organisations, parties, and trade unions. And no exit, no change for the better. And then after 1953, 1956, 1968 and 1981, Communism tipped over the edge in 1989.
Technically, things sped up. The results didn’t leave a stone standing: the end of industrialism, and tandem actions of globalisation and decentralisation. The end of growth, the sustainability lobby were no longer nutcases, climate and money catastrophe scenarios, oil running out, atomic energy deactivated. The USA weak, new states, especially the Asian ones, turning into new centres of power. We were on the verge of change.
The big „nanny state“, safe pensions, why not make everyone a civil servant, the power of trade unions, 36 hours: game over.
My generation talked about risk for a long time but never risked anything. Others risked, the generation of the „first globals“ and „digital natives“. They started driving in a different direction. We, the 68er or baby boomers, threw in our money and our knowledge. At least that. We made progress. Everyone became more active, especially the elderly. They invested more of everything. They had great reserves, in both time and money. And after all, they wanted to do something against unnecessary ageing and had learnt how to do it. Out of egoism, they became more and more useful. They spurred each other on. Being part of this was a great pleasure for me.
But now, at last, I have had my fill of life. It took a long time and that was a good thing. I’ll be off in a bit. The younger ones among us are not allowed to go yet. Whether we’ll see each other later on, we don’t know. But here there is still so much to do.
We are still far away from a truly global society but at least we didn’t regress into unruly provincialism in times of crisis. To have avoided this together is no small feat. Our new networks survived intact. We can be useful out of egoism.
What a relief. Dear friends raise your glasses!