Transcript: Welcome back to your 20 Minute Podcast with David Brower and our guest today is Dr. Laurence Peters. He’s an author, an educator. He’s got a BA, an MA, a PhD, a law degree. Man, you have been one busy guy.
Laurence Peters: Eternal student. I love it.
David Brower: Good for you.
Laurence Peters: I love the classroom. I’m either teaching or I’m learning or I’m doing both.
David Brower: That’s fascinating. One of the things that caught my interest on your profile and I know we’re going to talk about your book and retirement and those kinds of things, but one of the things that really caught my interest was being counsel to the Subcommittee on Select Education and Civil Rights for the US House of Representatives from 1986 to 1993.
David Brower: I can’t even imagine how interesting that was.
Laurence Peters: It was so interesting. I had a ball. I worked for a congressman from New York, Major Owens who was the first Liberian to be elected to Congress and he had marched with Martin Luther King. He had a great record of civil rights. He’s a sharecropper’s son. Came up the hard way from the South and probably the most the intelligent, the most well-read person I’ve ever met. Incredible passion for civil rights and with him we were the first subcommittee to hold the first hearing on ADA, the Americans for Disabilities Act. It was because he saw the connection between civil rights for African Americans and civil rights for disabled people and it was such a natural fit.
Laurence Peters: There were so many good things that came out of the experience. I was only there for six years but we managed to pass a slew of legislation. We were the first subcommittee to hold a hearing on pediatric AIDs. AIDs was some horrible, stigmatizing disease in the early ’80s and people thought that somehow children could not contract AIDS because it was “a gay disease” so we had to try to educate our Republicans as much as anything and generally the media into helping them to understand that AIDS was in fact transmitted in utero through some uses … certain women were using needles that were basically infected. Anyway, there’s a long story to that.
Laurence Peters: We were in the forefront of a lot of very progressive legislation. I felt like I was in my element. Certain times and certain roles in life you feel like, okay, I was born to do this kind of thing. I mean what was most remarkable is the fact that I’m originally from the UK. I don’t know if you saw that on my bio.
David Brower: I did, yeah, yeah.
Laurence Peters: To be given an opportunity, let me do my patriotic thing here. As a former citizen of UK, I’m now a citizen of United States, to be able to be privileged to be in that position was just incredible to me and to see the openness of the American political system and how people, I guess, these days in particular are feeling very frustrated about the American politics in general but I’m here to tell you that it is among the most vibrant, the most open systems we have in the entire democratic world.
Laurence Peters: It can allow a person like Trump to come into whatever you think about him and it can allow an Obama to be president. It does respond to people and I think that’s the essence of a democracy. That it’s open, it’s responsive, and things happen as a result of people getting elected. Not that everybody can agree all the time with those results but the system has a way of working.
David Brower: It does. Generation after generation whether you like it, love it, hate it or anywhere in between. It has some kind of innate balance to be able to continue to go on and on.
Laurence Peters: It’s a very well built machine and it does work and your voice can be heard and it does make a difference. If you become politically active, you can make a difference. I don’t think that’s true of every system out there. My sense is that we need a little pep talk sometimes about the vibrancy of the system and I just wanted to use the opportunity you’ve given me to just put that plug in for the democracy.
David Brower: Outstanding. I couldn’t agree more.
David Brower: Let’s move on to your book because I’m equally excited about this, a book called, you’ve co-authored it, Retirement Reading: Bibliotherapy for the Over Sixties crowd which includes me and there is a lot of myths out there, a lot of, I don’t know, media-created impressions about what retirement means and doesn’t mean and my sense is this book really zeroes in on the truth of it.
Laurence Peters: Yeah, I wrote it with my brother who’s back in the England and we both are in our 60s and we both read a lot. We thought some of the wisdom of the reading. We’ve read pretty much a lot of Philip Roth who back in the day was quite the author, quite the American author. We’ve read a lot of British authors like William Boyd and Graham Swift. A lot of these authors have things to share about what it is like to grow old and particularly, in the ’60s.
Laurence Peters: We also referred to classical authors like Cicero and Marcus Aurelius. The long and short, it’s not to make people into a crushing board or to just appeal just totally to bookworms. Our thought was that the usual way people think about retirement is it’s basically either a financial proposition which everybody thinks about retirement in terms of can I afford it, what will my lifestyle look like based on a reduced amount of income. That’s one of the first thoughts that people have.
Laurence Peters: The second thought people have is well, maybe because I’ve got this time available I can pursue “hobbies” and I can go travel. That’s usually the way people look at it. As you well know, once you are retired, the world changes a lot for you and there’s a lot of time to fill and you can’t fill all that time on the golf course and you can’t fill all that time traveling. There’s a time that you’re given and it’s precious time. It’s time we’ve earned because we work so hard during the major part of our working careers, we deserve it but the question always comes back to what do we do with this time. How do we use it productively?
Laurence Peters: These authors I’m going to come back to help us, I think, understand a little bit more about some of the ways in which to think about things. It’s a time that’s … I don’t know. It’s a time that’s quite eventful, particularly health wise. We’re reminded of our mortality, probably not once or twice but several times and we have to cope with that. Now if we spend a lot of time just focused on the financial issues or the travel issues, and particularly people who have basically been healthy most of their lives, when they 60, 65, they’re going to come into some health situation. It may not be serious but it’s going to affect them.
Laurence Peters: We wanted to try to come up with a book that helps people understand, confront that for want of a better word, mortality issue and what have the writers said about mortality and how have they approached it? How have you approached the fact that your body is changing quite rapidly after 60? There’s quite serious issues to do with losing muscle mass. I think there’s a sense in which we all have to deal with that. We shrink. There’s a physical change that occur.
Laurence Peters: I’m trying to reflect on those and not escape and run away from those or pretend that they don’t exist and that everybody is fine and great and we’re all going to live forever. It’s just not …
David Brower: I remember a couple of generations ago, I want to say, oh gosh, 40, 45 years ago, and I was working at a television station and one of the higher up management types was getting ready to retire. This was in the mid ’70s. He was 65 years of age. He had worked his entire life, high energy, fast drinking, hard smoking, very wonderful family but just a real go-getter kind of guy that was very successful.
David Brower: In his mind, when he turned 65 and he retired he was going to go home, put his feet up, hang out with his wife and the grandkids, maybe play a little golf and he was dead within five years.
Laurence Peters: It happens very often. Basically, we don’t know how much time we have.
David Brower: Yeah, exactly.
Laurence Peters: That’s a scary part too. It’s a huge rite of passage. Maybe we used to make a big fuss when people left work at 60, 65. Gave them a gold watch or some other but it’s sad. We no longer even perhaps make that old rite of passage a big deal anymore. The retirement party is passé now. How do you begin to come to terms with this new status, that’s really …
Laurence Peters: I thought really and here’s just a plug for reading. Reading is a place where it has some downside because it’s not that social but it allows you to at least reflect, help you reflect on the experience of other people who’ve gone through this.
David Brower: One of the things I was thinking about as I read through segments of your book, it seems to me, and it may be better now than when I was in school or my kids were in school, but it seems to me back in the day as you go through junior high and high school, there should have been, in retrospect, there should have been some classes teaching you how to balance a checkbook, how to go grocery shopping.
David Brower: Some real life applications and then 60 years later, it seems to me like there should be some classes on how to retire, what are the options, you know what I mean?
Laurence Peters: Right. No, I think that’s the right thing and I think maybe they will. We just can’t. … These days, people are so busy with everything. I mean the current situation is a lot of people feel that they can’t retire because of the economic situation. Another segment is too afraid to retire because they feel the same, the stigma that some people feel about not working. They feel that they have to be busy and they have to keep up a certain front, social front.
Laurence Peters: When you retire, when you’re just out there walking the dog and have plenty of time to go around the mall, it feels a little bit like you’re not quite part of the society, you feel a little bit like an outsider. Even the label, I’m retired. It’s not something that people like to use very much.
David Brower: Well, that’s right. I think another important part of what you’re talking about no matter where you are in life is fear. I mean fear is a real deal whether you’re working, whether you have a family, whether you have retirement, there’s real fear out there that you have to figure out a way to be able to face those fears to get back into your own skin.
Laurence Peters: There are fears. One way of dealing with them is a negative way. There’s a huge increase in depression, in suicide, in all of those bad things when people basically don’t have work because work has provided so much meaning their whole life. It’s provided their identity and so when you lose that identity you feel like you’ve lost part of yourself You have to reach back down in deep to find that inner self that’s been there the whole time in your working life but really hasn’t been able to be expressed and to surface just to get a sense of other people out there who are struggling.
Laurence Peters: You don’t feel so alone. You feel other people have gone through this as well and they haven’t come up necessarily with great answers, with a complete answer but they come up with something which makes you feel like you too could figure out your own meaning, your own sense of how things stack up, how things work.
David Brower: Absolutely. We’ve only got a couple of minutes left, Laurence, and I wanted to touch on biobliotherapy. I think that’s such an important word and when you go back and talk about the Egyptians and King Ramses and how all of this kind of history helps you create this book, can you touch on that in a couple of minutes?
Laurence Peters: The first library ever in the world was the one that was founded in Ancient Egypt and the pharaoh then, King Ramses, wrote over the first library the motto “the house of healing for the soul.” That’s basically one function of books. We used to think books, well, you look them up for reference purposes and so on. They’re a record of certain events chronological but the notion of books as healing, as therapy, is something we lost along the way over this 2000 year in history.
Laurence Peters: The Greeks also had the same feeling about not just books but about art itself and we lost the notion of soul along the way, both the Egyptians and the Romans believed in the idea of a soul. We feel well, yes, sort of, if you’re religious but really, I think it was Spinoza who said that our basic point, purpose on earth is to refine and mature our souls which are there from our birth and need this constant, they need to fulfill themselves, they need to need to begin, the passions that we had as young people need to be expressed still as older people, perhaps in a different form.
Laurence Peters: If you recognize this, if you recognize the soulfulness that’s in you and in everybody, that it’s about trying to express some inner meaning, inner self, then books can help because books can help you see how other souls have done it.
David Brower: It’s innate in each of us and we need to figure out a way to pay attention, bring it to the surface and help us live a more enjoyable life as we get old, right?
Laurence Peters: Yeah, I would love for people to read this book and correspond with me. I’d love for them to even create a virtual book club where people could talk about some of these titles. Let’s pick out one of these titles from … I reviewed 50 books and let’s have a conversation about it and I’m very open to that.
Laurence Peters: I want to connect more with … and that conversation is just not out there for me. It may be for other people. I’m not somehow a book clubby person but in terms of these kinds of authors and in terms of these issues, I’m ready for a conversation.
David Brower: That sounds fabulous and very important to say the least. Folks, his website is laurencepeters.com, L-A-U-R-E-N-C-E peters.com. The book is Retirement Reading: Bibliotherapy for the Over Sixties. It’s not only an important read. It’s also wonderful conversation that we just had and I wish we had another 20 minutes. I really enjoyed it.
Laurence Peters: Thank you very much. Appreciate it, David. It’s been very enjoyable for me too.
David Brower: Dr. Laurence Peters who lives in Maryland now and we thank him very much for his time and his experience. You’ve been listening to Your 20 Minute Podcast with David Brower. We hope you follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/your20minutepodcast.