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If Youth Knew, If Age Could 6 — Age is Numbers, Youth is Attitude


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2020/01/30

Dr. Herb Silverman is the Founder of the Secular Coalition for America, the Founder of the Secular Humanists of the Lowcountry, and the Founder of the Atheist/Humanist Alliance student group at the College of Charleston. He authored Complex variables (1975), Candidate Without a Prayer: An Autobiography of a Jewish Atheist in the Bible Belt (2012) and An Atheist Stranger in a Strange Religious Land: Selected Writings from the Bible Belt (2017). He co-authored The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America (2003) with Kimberley Blaker and Edward S. Buckner, Complex Variables with Applications (2007) with Saminathan Ponnusamy, and Short Reflections on Secularism (2019), and Short Reflections on American Secularism’s History and Philosophy (2020).

Here we talk about aging well.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You continue activity in the freethought communities. Not only as a presence to give a reminder of history and to honour successes, but as an active participant in community, someone who others admire.

Age slows us down. It just ticks up, and up, and up, in the numbers. A scythe hovering ever-present with each passing year. But we can maintain a youthful attitude. One of curiosity, discovery, sociability, and affability.

Even as we’re bound to get old, what are some tips to keeping a positive disposition while not denying some of the uglier realities of life, of time, of age?

Dr. Herb Silverman: I’m 77 years old, and I retired in 2009 as Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the College of Charleston. I dislike the word “retired,” which sounds like I used to be tired and now I’m tired again. I’m not really tired. What retired actually means is that I’m no longer making money for the work I do. Fortunately, I have enough money to satisfy all my needs through a reasonable pension, an investment retirement account (IRA), and Social Security, so I am able to sleep at night without worrying about paying bills. I’ve never been invested in consumerism or accumulating possessions.

One of the best things about retirement for me is that I can stay busy doing things I love to do. It was easy for me to retire because my passion had turned from mathematics to secular causes. Even before retiring, it’s a good idea to volunteer your services to groups or organizations you feel are worth your time. Volunteerism is not just about helping others. It helps the volunteer, too. People are much happier in later life if they have given to others and not thought only about themselves.

Another way to keep a positive disposition is to have a wonderful life partner. For me it is my wife, Sharon. Behind the scenes, Sharon has usually been involved in any successes I have had. She edits just about whatever I write, except for my mathematics papers. It also helps to have a sense of humor and to laugh a lot, which Sharon always does at my jokes.

The “Golden Years” of your life are called Golden because this is the time when you can finally do all the things you wanted to without having to worry about getting time off. You can go out and enjoy yourself. Lifetime learning is also important for everyone. There are often opportunities for retirees to take courses at a nearby university at a very low cost. If you are retired, staying engaged with young people is especially worthwhile. For some retirees, there is a tendency just to hang out with other old farts. It’s possible to grow old without feeling old.

Most of us realize as we get older that we can’t or shouldn’t try to do everything we used to do. Some time ago, I decided to step back from leadership positions I held, partly because I have less energy, but mostly because I knew it was time to make room for younger people with fresh ideas. Before it became time to kick me out, I chose to no longer be president of the Secular Coalition for America, president of our local secular humanist group, board member of the Atheist Alliance, board member of the American Humanist Association, faculty advisor to the College of Charleston Atheist/Humanist Alliance, etc. However, I still fully support all of these organizations as well as other groups.

Old age can also bring unpleasant surprises. Last year at age 76, I suffered a stroke. This was quite a shock to my doctors and me because I had no risk factors (other than a mother who died of a stroke) and I was doing all the right things, eating healthy foods and exercising for about an hour each morning. After my stroke, I received physical therapy for several weeks. I’m pretty much fully recovered (thank no god), except for a slight weakness on my right side and occasional slurring of speech. I felt the best thing for me to do after my stroke was to pick myself up and go on with life as if nothing had happened. In happy aging, there is no room to focus on regrets.

There is no sense worrying about what might happen in the future. I deal with things when they happen, appreciate what I have, and approach each day with a sense of purpose. It certainly helps to have family, friends, and a caring community. When I was young, I wanted to be noticed. As I got older, I wanted to make a difference. I must admit that I am now also interested in establishing a legacy. It’s nice to know that when I die I will be able to leave money to secular organizations and secular causes.

End of life choices should be made explicit, and not just for the elderly because we don’t know when time might be up for us. If I ever reach the point when my mind is gone, I want someone to pull the plug. I told Sharon specifically to pull the plug if I start saying that I believe in God.

Something else I recommend for everyone, which I already did, is to write your autobiography. One of the best ways to learn about yourself is to write about yourself. Also, people should write about things they know, and who is more of an expert about you than you?

Finally, I’ll close with this Mark Twain quote, “ Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many.”

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Silverman.

Previous sessions:

If Youth Knew, If Age Could 1 — Freethought for the 21st Century

If Youth Knew, If Age Could 2 — Freethought for a Multipolar World

If Youth Knew, If Age Could 3 — Coming of Age in an Ever, Ever-Irrational World

If Youth Knew, If Age Could 4 — Bridges are the Rainbows

If Youth Knew, If Age Could 5 — We Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere, No-Time Soon: Supernaturalistic Traditions and Naturalistic Philosophies in the Future


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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