It is really good news that the 2013 Australian of the Year Ita Buttrose supported older people in her inaugural speech. She is reported as saying ‘Just because you are old, it doesn’t mean that you are not a person’. She is quite right so we should be thankful that we are hearing messages like this from the top.

The problem is that just describing us as people doesn’t take us very far. It begs the question ‘What sort of people?’. I think that this makes it even more important that we fill our time with something worthwhile, not just filling it with stuff that helps the time to pass. We older people have so much to offer the community with all the experiences we have had, and the knowledge we have picked up over the decades. I think that this is what is actually meant by wisdom.

Against this background we need to make sure that we are not just content with the knowledge we had when we were a more active part of the community, in other words we are not just living in the past. That can get a bit boring.

My neighbour was having problems with her tomato plants which looked great from the top but were diseased underneath. A quick trip to google suggested a nitrogen deficiency which could be solved with a plant food rich in this. We can enrich our lives by using modern technology if we make the effort to find out how.

Of course the best way of ensuring that we are not living in the past is to be involved in every day life and use all our knowledge and talents usefully. For those of us who are retired we probably prefer to do this without all the restrictions of paid work, including meeting deadlines and accounting for the hours worked. Working as a volunteer, providing we are working for someone who appreciates what we have to offer, particularly our skills, means that we are then very much regarded as people and can continue to contribute to society, but on our terms.

If Ita Buttrose’s comments are to come to fruition then action needs to happen on both sides. Asking the rest of the population to treat us as people leads to the comment ‘Why should I?’. I f we are using all our talents and experience in what we are doing then the question doesn’t need to be asked. It’s up to us older people to meet the challenge too.