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Is It Okay To Leave Behind Sick, Aging Friends? Authors Take On Tough Questions About Getting Older

The book cover for "Aging Thoughtfully"  by Martha Nussbaum and Saul Levmore.
Oxford University Press
The book cover for "Aging Thoughtfully" by Martha Nussbaum and Saul Levmore.
Is It Okay To Leave Behind Sick, Aging Friends? Authors Take On Tough Questions About Getting Older
Is It Okay To Leave Behind Sick, Aging Friends? Authors Take On Tough Questions About Getting Older GUEST: Saul Levmore, co-author, "Aging Thoughtfully"

This is KPBS Midday Edition I Maureen Cavanaugh. Almost 50% of population is 65 or older. By even as a chance of living to old age increases, our curiosity about what that might mean for us individually apparently does not. Many of us pull back from thinking about old age afraid of the choices and challenges it presents. A new book is encouraging the kinds of questions and conversations about aging that people tend to avoid. Philosopher Marcil northbound and Economists all Meth more are co-authors of the book aging thoughtfully. Conversations about retirement, romance, wrinkles, regret. Joining me as Saul love Moore Professor at the University of Chicago Law school. This book is set up as a series of essays. Sometimes dueling essays between you and your co-author Martha Nespelem. What was the first conversation you two had that became the spark for the book?We always disagree. The first conversation is disagreement. I think the first one was about mandatory retirement. I was giving the opinion that maybe people should contract to promise to come to work but then to leave after 10 years. She had some story about this being the worst thing in the world her sister did it and it was not supposed to be done. And then it gave us the idea of dueling essays.To go into the mandatory retirement age, your co-author thinks mandatory assignments are discriminatory. Why do you disagree?I think there discriminatory in a healthy way. First of all the cases the employer wants to agree that there will be an retirement. They're not trying to force on somebody who thinks of something else. We should not allow mandatory retirement by contract. I can think of to Kwik good reasons. One is it is hard to get a job if you're in the 40s or 50s or 60s. The employer is afraid she'll never leave. For starters, I think a lot of aging people would be better off signing a statement agreeing that the retirement age of 65 or 68. The second reason is I've been an employer and it is hard to get rid of people under the law. Lessee have somebody under the age over the age of 40 but let's say there 70, their income has not risen in years they're not raising their pay but you're allowed to get rid of them but you're not but you show that there are incompetent of their job. Requires employees to testify against each other. I think it would be a lot easier if there was an across-the-board role that the employer could drop you at age 68 without going for one of these.You take more than one controversial position in aging thoughtfully. You say people should not feel guilty about stepping away from a friendship if a friend's illness or condition makes the relationship unenjoyable. Some people might hear that and accuse you of being callous.Where I come from Calais is a good thing. I think I'm being realistic. If you visit retirement communities, it's striking people give up on people who are no longer competent to play bridge are golf. What else are you supposed to do. Ideally, I don't want to give up on people I care about. But I don't think I have to be glued to them forever. I want my children to live good lives. I don't want them to ruin their lives by taking care of me forever. So I should feel free to leave someone else when it's leave within reason. I don't want people to hate spending time with me.One of the themes of this book is to encourage people to think of the questions that arise about old age for themselves. Questions like we have been talking about. Why do people shy away from doing that.I think part of it is they don't want to see themselves in a new light. Part of it is they are afraid things will be to personal. And part of it is they are in denial. They don't want to think about what their retirement income is like. They don't want to think about if they saved enough money. Some think about that obsessively I might be one. We know half the population is not saving money. What do they think is going to happen. They're not thinking about it or talking about it. Similarly, if they don't think about which of their children might take care of them or visit them, should there need -- they need help when they get older, I think the idea of their own intelligence might be good.Is there anything to be gained from regret?'s tracker I am not a regretful person. I am really projecting watching other people. I don't think regret is healthy. I think you should move forward, and you might regret for a second to change your future behavior. Like I wish I was nicer to my father that's regret because he's no longer a live. I don't obsess over it it does not guide my whole life it is done. I think for some people regret is a healthy means of education. They might regret they did not save more money in their youth. That is a way to teach their children to save more money. There is nothing to gain by thinking about the past is over. I don't know that regret is useful. A few seconds of regret per day is optimal.You say is you get older that serous apologies are more valuable.I think we are better at apologizing when we are older when you're young you say you're sorry people roll your eyes at you. When people get older you think I am sorry didn't work hard and travel more. For example, have someone in my family who was ill for a while. I should've paid more attention to her what she was going through during her illness. Now that I'm older I have more sensitivity to that. When I apologized to her, I think the apology means more. She understands I now have more experience or wisdom. So the apology means more. I think if I had said it 20 years ago it would not have meant much it would've seemed self-serving.Part of the title of your book refers to romance. I think our society as a whole young and old alike, tend to be unsettled about the idea of sexually active older people. What are your thoughts about what aging thoughtfully means about older bodies and romance.I think most young people dramatically underestimate the amount of sex old people are having. I think it's a fact of life and you should get used to it. Number two there is a norm where we think as long as sex between older women younger women, I think it's much more complicated than that. I think older men who have a lot of money might find younger partners. By and large, people of both genders, when they age look for partners within their own age group. I think we underestimate it and we traumatically make leave that these are very differently age people. I don't think that's true.Do you think we should change the way we think about sexually active older people.I hope we are accepting that if older people want to make out in a movie theater that's great. Do what they want. If they want to get married and have sex that's great they should do what they want. Religions might get in the way a little bit. Older people tend to go back to religion. There are very interesting and sad religious stories about people whose balances might be alive but barely. So whether they can engage in relationships on the site the book does not talk about that. These are hard questions. I trust people to work it out themselves. That is the motif of the book. I trust you to work this out for yourself but you have to work it out. You have to think about counter arguments, think about things you will tell your peers and older people when you retire. You tell older people when they are making fools of themselves.I have been speaking with Professor Saul co-author with philosopher Martha Nussbaum of the book aging thoughtfully. Conversations about retirement, romance, wrinkles, regret. Thank you for speaking with us .thank you that was fun.

Almost 15 percent of the U.S. population is 65 or older, and that’s expected to grow to 24 percent by 2060. But even as the chance of living to old age increases, many people pull back from thinking about old age, afraid of the choices and challenges it presents, University of Chicago Law School professor Saul Levmore said.

“Part of it is they don’t want to see themselves in a new light. Part of it is they think everything will be too personal,” Levmore said. “And I think part of it is they’re just in denial: they don’t want to think about what their retirement income is like. Now some people think about it obsessively, I might be one of those, but we know half the population isn’t saving money.”

Levmore is co-author of the new book, "Aging Thoughtfully: Conversations about Retirement, Romance, Wrinkles & Regret,” which encourages the kinds of conversations about aging that people tend to avoid. It’s presented as a series of dueling essays between Levmore and philosopher Martha Nussbaum, discussing whether it is ever okay to distribute inheritances unequally among children, whether active retirement communities are a hedonist escape vehicle or when it might be appropriate to abandon aging friends who are sick.


Levmore admits these are difficult questions, but hopes the book inspires more people to consider them seriously.

“I trust you to work this out for yourself, but you really have to work it out. You’ve got to think about these things, think about counterarguments, think about things you’ll tell your peers,” Levmore said. “I think that’s very healthy.”

Levmore joins KPBS Midday Edition on Tuesday with more of his thoughts on aging, including whether mandatory retirement ages should be legal.