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Bonzer Words!: Wise Elders

Valerie Yule speaks up for older folk whose wisdom, talents and experience enable them to continue to be active and useful to society.

Valerie hosts a website www.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas devoted to social inventing.
Her basic concept is that people have thousands of ideas daily but they don't do anything about the ideas that come to them, or if they do try, they give up when other people aren't interested.

Valerie writes for Bonzer! magazine. For further enjoyable reading visit www.bonzer.org.au

Ageism wasn't around until the hippie Sixties, except in nomadic societies where anyone who could not keep up had to be left behind, or where people lived on the edge of starvation, and only those capable of hard physical labour had a right to eat.

Everywhere else, the Wise Elders have been valued because they were storehouses of knowledge and the wisdom of long experience. They were the rulers and counsellors of families, tribes and kingdoms. I remember a quite typical Chinese thriller film, where the Wise Old Grandmother, head of the family, sent out the heroes and heroines to rescue captured brothers, sent out the communiques, received back the wounded and led the mourning for the dead and the celebrations of success.

Reverence for the aged was only problematic when it led to a dead hand of conservatism and traditions so that progress could not meet new circumstances.

In many cultures, Old Age has been the 'Seventh Age', a time to throw off the cares of the world, and attend to spiritual needs and make a spiritual progress.

AGEISM means discriminating against people because of their age, regardless of their abilities and individualities. It is pushed by:

* the accelerating rate of modern change, with the assumption that the Oldies cant keep up.

* the accelerating culture of Waste, that values only novelty and newness is valued and everything else gets trashed - including the wisdom, knowledge, artefacts and people of the past.

* enormous improvements in medical treatment, so that people can go on living as dependent invalids for many years, past what would have been a 'use-by-date'.

the 60s hippy culture which hoped to bring a new world by completely abandoning the old, and the treasons committed by their parents. 'Never trust anyone over thirty'.
increasing segregation generally, so that increasingly people only congregate with others like them, in work and play and family life. Niche markets, segregated and age-stratified schools, teenagers as a defined group cut off from knowing how to grow up. Only perhaps the football left as a place where people of all ages like to get together.

And so Australian young people worry because an increasing proportion of the people is over sixty. But we don't have even a third of the problems of poor countries when over half the population is under fifteen. Children are far more expensive to rear than the cost of elder care. Far from burdens, Wise Elders are Living Treasures and essential contributors to our society and to our bottom lines. How?

Tremendous improvements in health mean that old people can be active and useful until, on average, two years before their death. (This average high health costs for two years before dying applies to all the community, at whatever age they die.)
I remember my grandparents and great-aunts in their sixties so many were deeply-wrinkled, bowed and frail. Today people even in their eighties and nineties often look younger than they did.

Most people are capable of working efficiently longer than age 65, and many want to although many others rightly think they now deserve a break, to do other things not under the yoke. (What an anomaly, that even at age forty, able people can find it difficult to get new jobs or promotions the human scrapheap is just another example of the tremendous waste in our society).

In many ways, 'retired' people keep our communities going because they have time to care, to volunteer, to think, to invent, to do what is needed, which harried wage-slaves have not the time or energy to do.

Many communities today rely on tourism. And who are the great tourists? The retirees, of course, now able to enjoy life to the full.

What sort of support do retirees and even old people in nursing homes need from the younger workforce? In our modern technological age, not that much really and indeed, wryly, as a source of employment, old people needing care help the job market.

Financially, we could operate our society so that the funding for old age came completely from superannuation and insurance, in safe investments such as government bonds.

'You can only learn from your own mistakes' is utter nonsense. The problem about making your own mistakes is that they can be disastrous, or you can just keep on repeating them as a sort of habit. Old people are badly needed as a source of wisdom about the past, so mistakes don't just get repeated.

Older people can have a greater understanding of peace, and the loveliness of quietness, and gentleness, cheerfulness and good humour. They can pass this on to the young children, who also love these things when given a chance.

Many younger people believe the world has always been as nasty as it seems now, that 'human nature' is always as nasty as it is in recent films and television and the news headlines, that we cannot hope for a better future than we have now. Older people can warn about the future through knowledge of the disasters of the past. Older people can also be witnesses to the possibilities of the future, because of the glories and happiness of the past.

How about being a Social Inventor?

I bet you are one already Most people have in their time invented something - a better way to fix the flywire, or a good idea for a child's party, or a different way to tie a scarf, or an idea to improve the United Nations.

Most scientific and technological innovating today needs special training but that is not the innovating that is most needed today. Today we need to start fixing up societies, and how we live in small things as well as big things.

All you need to be able to be a social inventor is to know enough about the problem you are trying to fix, or to have enough imagination to think of something better. To improve quality of life, and solve social problems - at any level.

Look at Lucie, skimming down the street, sitting on a box she has put on her scooter. As long as she can brake, she has invented a good way to bring home the messages.

I have invented lots of things, and enjoy a lot of mental exercise thinking of more things. I can water the garden with a hose from the downpipe from my roof. I have made my own worm-farm with two sieves and a big paint-can without a bottom. I invent new money-systems just for fun.

I would like a 'social inventing' puzzle page in newspapers and magazines which set a practical problem and you can invent any sort of way to solve it using magic if you like. How to make politicians keep their promises. More comfortable clothes in winter.


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