Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Growing old is a choice. I realize that now. But it took some straight talk from neurosurgeon and likely Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson to help me see the light. 

He wasn’t talking about the elderly in his now infamous CNN interview last week. Not in so many words anyway. In attempting to prove for all time that homosexuality is a choice, he found irrefutable evidence in the American penal system. 

“A lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay,” said the neurosurgeon with the gifted hands and reckless mouth. “So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.”*

Well, I did as he requested. I asked myself that question, and that’s when it hit me. Everything he said, every beautifully phrased, carefully considered, scientifically supported word,** applies to aging too. So here’s how I imagine the rest of that CNN interview probably went.

“Very interesting, Dr. Carson,” the unfazed anchor continues. “On another topic, we have a problem with aging in America. Boomers are retiring, fast, and no one seems very interested in committing the necessary resources to fund their care. How do you explain this lack of compassion and respect?”

“Well, it’s really very simple. Just like gay prison converts, old people have a choice.”

“But Dr. Carson,” his incredulous inquisitor responds. “Aging is a biological certainty over which we have absolutely no control. How can you …”

“It’s extremely clear, if you just look around you,” the patient physician interrupts. “People go into life young, and when they come out, they’re old. Did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question.” He smiles with smug certainty, and the journalist sinks back in his chair, defeated but enlightened. Of course! That’s the only possible explanation.  

All this time, as we’ve been wondering why the elderly aren’t valued in our society, the answer has been sitting right in front of us. We don’t think it’s really our problem to solve, because those elderly people brought this on themselves.  They chose to be old.

Thankfully, we younger folks will never be in their position. We’re smart, strong and expect to live forever. Sure, it’s sad to see all those slow moving, frail and dispirited seniors everywhere we turn, but it’s certainly not our responsibility. Their bad decisions have consequences, and we have our own lives to live.

Why should we invest in social programs? Why should we fund long-term care at adequate levels to meet the growing need? Why should we mortgage our children’s bright future to make up for the poor choices of a demanding horde of selfish old people? Ask yourself those questions.

*He has since backtracked from these ridiculous remarks, and though I’ve been very critical of Dr. Carson in the past, partly because of his condescension toward the work you do in long-term care, I have to admit I was impressed by the candor and apparent sincerity of his apology.

**This is an example of sarcasm. I’m not aware that anything he said had any scientific support or merit.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in Humor Writing in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.