By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published October 6, 2016
Consider, if you will, the Peace Corps.
On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps. Three days later, Sargent Shriver was appointed its first director. In July, Peace Corps assignments were planned for Ghana, Tanzania, Colombia, the Philippines, Chile and St. Lucia. More than 5,000 applicants took the first exams, required at the time to enter the Peace Corps. The first group of 51 volunteers departed that year for Ghana.
Since then, over 178,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in 138 countries. Their individual experiences, in villages, towns and cities around the world, have composed a legacy of service that has become part of America’s history.
The Peace Corps has had perhaps a far greater positive impact on foreign policy than any program in our country’s history. It was a new, bold concept that energized the country and made everyone proud to be an American. The Peace Corps transcended bi-partisan politics and became one of the few major government programs that had support on both sides of the aisle in Congress and throughout the world. Nobody has ever criticized the Peace Corps about their mission, goals and strategies.
The Peace Corps is a wonderful example of how a global concept can work for the benefit of all mankind.
If the Peace Corps can have such a positive, enduring impact on our global society, why can’t we find a way to use the stored-up wisdom in the minds of our senior citizens around the world to solve major challenges and make the world a safer and more peaceful place to live?
The wisdom that is resident in the minds and experiences of all seniors represents one of the greatest untapped potentials in the world. The distilled wisdom of seniors is waiting to be discovered and utilized. Unfortunately the world does not always understand or identify with this powerful resource.
In past times and cultures the elders were placed in positions of honor and respect. They were the leaders and decision-makers. They were the source of lore and legend. They provided the community with stability and direction. Many times the elders were able to maintain their calm and cool while the younger members of the community were willing to fight and die for a cause that the elders were able to resolve without conflict.
Consider the past generations of the American Indians, the Eskimos, the cultures in the Far East, Middle East and many of the cultures in Europe; they all placed a high value on the wisdom of their elders. These cultures recognized that their elders provided a sense of perspective on life that younger people had not yet developed.
When I was a young boy I remember that my grandfather, a stern German authoritarian, was the true patriarch of the extended family. Everyone sought his advice, counsel and permission, much like was portrayed in the movie, “The Godfather.” No one in the family made a major decision without first discussing it with grandfather.
The world of today often fails to capitalize on the wisdom and experience of its seniors as the seniors are metaphorically put out to pasture when they retire. The age of technology and advanced education has apparently preempted the importance of wisdom. Yet the major advancements of the past 50 years were created and introduced by the retired generation.
History is replete with examples of men and women who made some of their greatest contributions when they were in the prime of their “wisdom” years, including Thomas Jefferson, Mother Teresa, Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, Michelangelo, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, Leonardo DaVinci, Susan B. Anthony, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Maya Angelou, Bob Hope, Ernest Hemingway, Ronald Reagan, Billy Graham, Sam Walton, Walt Disney, Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis, to name more than a few.
I believe that every business, institution, organization and government would benefit from the free flow of experience and wisdom that is resident in the minds and experience base of our retired senior population. This represents a tremendous opportunity to create some type of structure that would organize and implement programs to serve as the vehicle for bringing the two sides together.
For instance, there is an organization within the Small Business Administration called SCORE that stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives, the “Counselors for America’s Small Businesses.” Over 50 years ago a group of retired executives got together and volunteered to help small businesses solve their growth and operational problems. The group provides a wide range of services to thousands of small business owners. They are an excellent example of how a group of senior retirees were able to use their experience and wisdom to help fellow entrepreneurs.
I believe there is a great opportunity to create an organization of seniors, globally and right within our parishes, to harness the experience base of seniors and focus this resource on solving problems in society and the church. The wisdom database would have every conceivable qualification and credential to address every possible problem. The concept would be called the Wisdom Corps.
The only thing lacking is the commitment and the organization to do it. What do you think?
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send Bill your thoughts on this and other topics, send an email to email@example.com.