Archives for category: Having a purpose

In a time of instant communication across the world, and other technological progress, isn’t it time we moved beyond making resolutions which affect the next year to awakening awareness of the knowledge we now have and applying it to a much longer time period. We can’t be proud of the world we currently live in, nor can we want to pass on the current mess to those who come after us, hopefully down the centuries ahead if our planet survives in a habitable form.

Out world is currently in a mess. Look at the many wars currently waging across our world, most, if not all, with no signs of resolution. Look at the unequal distribution of wealth, not always based on distribution of currently needed resources. Even within countries many, if not all, show this unequal distribution. Few seem to accept that those born in positive situations are always the most talented and gifted. Any country which has poverty and lack of opportunities for any of its citizens, which again covers most, if not all, are missing out on those citizen’s talent and ability, which no country can afford to do. Why does this happen? Because those who get to the top tend to be addicts of money or power or both. They tend to think of enhancing their own lives instead of the world we are wrecking.

Where do we start to clean up this mess? Firstly this means educating everyone, and providing for their needs, regardless of their status, power or current knowledge. We need to recognise that everyone has something to offer to help save our future. Then we need to find some way of allowing all talents and knowledge to be utilised. This can only be achieved through a democracy. The trouble is that few, if any, countries have really achieved this. The USA, one of the most influential, has just elected a President the majority of its citizens did not vote for. This suggests that we still haven’t invented a true democracy.

I believe that this is the invention we haven’t yet discovered and is the one we desperately need. Even when we discover it we will need to disempower those who want personal wealth, power and influence from their current monopoly of nation, and hence world, leadership. There have been a few, sometimes unofficial, leaders in the past who have achieved it, people we remember often for decades after their death, but these are rare and often outside official roles. Names such as Gandhi and Mandela come to mind. It is leaders such as these, who are largely urging equality and opportunity for all, we should be enabling to be leaders.

Our New Technology Century resolution should be to fight for democracy and equality and a world in which we all unite to preserve our planet for those coming after us. This would be a far greater legacy to leave than merely the Technology Revolution which often contributes to our current possible destruction of our environment and annihilation as a species. Weapons which cause massive destruction, harm and suffering are not a good legacy for us to leave for those who follow us.

Not Happy New Year but Happy (rest of the) New Technology Century should be our wish and ambition.

 

As we speed towards 2017, which will mean that we are well ensconced in the 21st century, we still face a great deal of uncertainty and still have no concept of ourselves as guardians of this planet. Technology has helped in that people across the world, either close by or on the opposite side, can usually contact each other within seconds, but we still behave as individuals, with little concept of our joint role as preservers of humanity itself. In fact most people still think in terms of their own patch of land, be it the building they live in, the town/city and the country  their lives are clustered around, with minimum global concept beyond those limits.

The problems the world (this planet we have named earth) seems to have has little or no place in our, or our leaders, lives. Our thoughts seem to be focussed around our own little patch, a relic of mankind’s history, with no attempt to look beyond this. I once taught in a private girls school, which was favoured by at least one prime minister for the education of his daughter. One of the staff reckoned the school motto should be ‘Me’ because that seemed to be the students’ focus! That could easily apply to so many people in today’s world, including leaders.

We are all familiar with the industrial revolution and how it changed the lives of so many people. I suspect that this century will be recognised for the knowledge revolution which is likely to change the lives of far more people across the globe, both for better or worse. The latter effect will be entirely our responsibility as holders of this knowledge and responsible for how we use it.

There seems to be an acceptance of democracy as the most acceptable way of ruling, with greater personal freedom not only in choice of lifestyle but in expression of ideas and knowledge. It is not yet an idea anyone has perfected, with most countries having an unacceptable level of poverty and homelessness. Public demonstrations against the ruling party is a healthy part of this, unless they go on for too long (an indication that the people are not being listened to) or if violence is involved suggesting another agenda.

We enter the new year with one major player in world affairs having a leader who constantly  changes his mind and another who faces huge poverty levels (they don’t publish the figures) with an additional 6 million of his people facing job losses in major industries. Meanwhile his government is building weapons structures which threaten major trade routes. Hardly a positive picture.

Meanwhile, on a lesser scale, countries such as Australia have their own struggle with the knowledge boom. The Prime Minister has publicly denounced the advice of the chief scientist on climate change, an essential part of the world’s survival. Neither the Prime Minister, or his senior cabinet, seem to have any expertise in this area. In fields where they do have knowledge it was obtained in the last century and is largely out of date, but unrecognised as such. This is why it is so important to employ qualified advisors and take their advice.

We need to change our approach to governance, and sharing our planet, if we are to survive.

 

These are the two major influences in my life at present and as time goes on they both get more urgent!

I have always been interested in education, not only personally but because I spent almost all of my life teaching, mainly in high schools but also University. I also continuously updated my own knowledge base, ending up with 5 degrees, the latest, a Ph.D. at age 76. I had one short stint away from teaching learning to be a computer programmer but found I missed human company as in those days programmers worked on their own! What a different world!

Computers have made a huge change in human life, something we can expect to continue to happen. We should have seen the knowledge explosion coming. From our early history we know that as groups grew their knowledge and new ideas grew with them. Today we can contact people across the world instantaneously so obviously our knowledge is growing at the same rate.

This is why life long learning becomes increasingly important, and it shows! The main people who seem to be unaware of its importance are those to whom it should be obvious, and be vitally necessary, our leaders. What is happening in Syria currently is an absolute disgrace. It is happening because leaders around the world were educated in the last century and have missed out on the knowledge which has happened since, at a time when the world is going through a knowledge explosion. How else can we explain why today’s leaders see a problem and take the old-fashioned way out of it, which usually means inhumane, costly and ineffective solutions, usually killing. Eventually, after much regrettable behaviour and death and suffering, not of course to the leaders, they decide to talk about the problem. How unintelligent this path is.

At citizen level we worry about the crime rate yet the only solution we use is to protect society from criminals by locking them up for a while. When they are released the majority go out and repeat the cycle. This isn’t a 21st century solution, it is a 20th century band-aid. We know so much more now.

So many people wonder how the USA has got itself into the current situation where leadership choice in the most influential country in the world seems to rest on which group can come up with the most dirt about the other. How uneducated! There are far bigger problems than this in the world such as liberty, poverty, disease, lack of access to food and fresh water and education which we should be tackling.

So where does ageing fit into all this? Same problems. I’ve just come across another world-wide group in this field who I am sure likes to think of themselves as world leaders, the IAGG. Yet they also don’t give discounts to pensioners to attend their next international conference and presumably don’t really want us there. Conferences on ageing without the ageing? Another example of a group educated in the 20th century who haven’t moved on. Ageing is currently a major problem, created by the so-called experts who haven’t yet realised that to be efficient and successful in their work they need to involve the real experts, ageing people themselves.

So many problems in the world would no longer exist, or be solved, if leaders updated their knowledge and education so that they thought and spoke from a 21st century knowledge platform.

 

The other day I watched the American debate between the two major candidates for President. Both of them are very wealthy, with one boasting of his wealth to prove how successful he is in life, the currently accepted measure. The picture would be very different if people in so-called developed countries worshipped different goals, one in which everyone was equal, with some having more appropriate talents than others, a group of succeeders who felt obliged to help those less well-endowed. This of course would be a very different world in which war, misery and suffering were greatly reduced  and we could take a common pride in our world, our planet and our achievements. We would go a long way towards this if we stopped applying the word ‘wealthy’ to people who are actually money addicts whose craving for the substance is never satisfied. The problem is that the object of their desire can’t be grown, it has to be taken from other people. Yet these are the people we look up to as potential leaders.

Another word which is frequently abused is the word ‘education’. I think most people would define it as an opportunity to gain knowledge. Unfortunately our definition stops there, particularly when we try to define how such a desirable situation is to be achieved. If we do try, we continue we use words like schools and books, with today adding more sophisticated equipment, such as computers.

These thoughts arose when I took my granddaughters to a school holiday program run by the National Museum of Australia. The theme for every program is based on whatever exhibition the museum currently has running, in this case medieval life. The children were firstly given some knowledge about the topic and then they were asked to make something appropriate, in this case their own crown and shield, which they take home, and they also help to build a castle which successive groups of children will add to. The magic in this program is the talent and imagination the teachers (and helpers) have put into it. It is a non-competitive environment and the children automatically strive to produce their best efforts simply because they are interested and want to. The fact that the teaching staff are also really enjoying what they are doing is the magic ingredient which makes this work.

Our problem is that when we think about education we rarely think in terms of creating a non-competitive environment in which all concerned, from classroom teachers, to school principals, to education departments of universities, to ministries of education can encourage students to be imaginative, to think differently, and to come up with new ideas. Yet these are the talents people living and working in the 21st century need. The problem is that those involved in education are either innovative young teachers who frequently end up toeing the line, or older people whose goal is the next promotion. We then test the success of the current system by using past methods which are no longer relevant in the 21st century, national testing which really measures little yet takes up a lot of time and money.

If we really want a world in which most people can be successful and achieve then we need to rethink our values and the words we use to define them. We need to work out what the world and its populations need and work towards it. We all need to move into the 21st century with more appropriate definitions and goals. Otherwise the planet will become  unlivable and our descendants will die out.

Given the rise and rise of Donald Trump in the US I can only assume that Australia is not the only country to have a mixed approach to desirable standards for its citizens to achieve. If all else is equal then money (addiction) apparently surpasses everything else. We have come full circle since the Christian religion (amongst others) was the dominant force and there was a somewhat half-hearted attempt to spread wealth and assets more evenly so that all could benefit. Now if you are rich (a money addict) you are dominant and your ideas prevail. Your personal education, long since overtaken by your need for more and more money, is no longer important. For the record, it is 48 years since Donald Trump did any formal learning and 36 years for Malcolm Turnbull, in economics for Trump and Law for Turnbull. In both fields there have been dramatic advances in learning to adapt to our changing technological world in the intervening years.

If we turn to the other end of the spectrum, the unemployed and the welfare recipients, we find that there is a different emphasis. Suddenly we acknowledge the need for them to be educated, with both Australia and New Zealand recently assuming that lack of this vital commodity is their problem.

If we turn to our schools we also acknowledge the world we live in and realise that technology, including science and mathematics knowledge, is the way we should be going, equipping our children for this recognised future.

If we really want to create a viable world in which we all share its benefits regardless of our starting point in life, the skills we were equipped with, and the lucky breaks we have had along the way, then we need to work out together what our goals should be as we share this planet. Obviously we can’t all aspire to be like the people we choose as our leaders and potential leaders, collecting as much money as we can off other people. This is a limited goal for very few people and also not a very intelligent one.

So what is the solution? It is many years now since the term ‘lifelong education’ was introduced into our vocabulary but it has few adherents, surprising since the lack of it has so many consequences, particularly given the speed with which modern knowledge is expanding.

It is even longer since early man settled in ever larger groups and as the groups grew so did the pace of new ideas. Not only are we forming ever larger groups today but communication between different groups can be instantaneous, thus rapidly expanding our knowledge base. Knowledge, and its availability, are growing at an unprecedented rate.

Surely we should be capable of recognising the type of leaders appropriate for this new world and abandoning the old stereotype of those only capable of amassing personal wealth, taken off others, dismissing the need for personal knowledge accumulation. This is not a valid path for the world of the 21st century.

For years I have been advocating that older people are a bonus in our society, not merely an expense and finally parts of Australia seem to be waking up to this, albeit from the expense aspect. The recently retired government appointed advisor on ageing advocated that employers be encouraged to retain older people and to do so pointed out their value to society. Unfortunately her research didn’t extend to the fact that people retire because they are bored in their jobs and don’t feel appreciated, a fact which is unlikely to improve the situation.

To really tackle the problem of people retiring at 65, and possibly living for another 40 years with no purpose in their lives, we need to try to offer purposeful alternatives, such as encouraging the rising group of seniorpreneurs. To avoid joining the list of failed businesses these people need professional mentoring, preferably provided by the government. Another fruitful area could be provided by established volunteer organisations listening to the ideas their older volunteers have. It is no use trying to persuade employers that their older workers are valuable employees if the government itself is not providing a good example through projects it supports. I am continuously upset by the fact that the two main organisations who receive huge amounts of government funding in Australia to provide for, and involve, older people don’t themselves employ older people and therefore so often get things wrong about ageing. How insulting for older people. In contrast the organisation which does provide successfully for this age group, U3A, is self funded (it is run by older volunteer members) and is much more successful at the grass roots level.

Professional organisations are not necessarily any better. I would have liked to have stated our case at the World Congress on Public Health to be held in Melbourne next year. Most similar organisations offer a discount for pensioners but in spite of having ‘Life Stages’ as one of their themes, they apparently haven’t heard of, or don’t recognise, the later stage of life and don’t want to hear of it, in spite of having this discrepancy brought to their attention. Most conference attendees are paid for by their employers, including travel and accommodation costs, so affordability is not an issue for them. I hate it when an important organisation such as this suffers from ageism, particularly as the numbers of older people are growing rapidly, a factor they should be aware of. This organisation should be providing leadership in this field, not dragging their heels.

We shouldn’t be complaining about huge national debts, which most countries seem to have, if at the same time we ignore the contribution the most rapidly growing section of the population could make if its talents, experience and knowledge weren’t ignored. I don’t think it is just a question of ignoring us, I think this attitude contributes to ‘the problem’ by making us feel a burden and useless. As we think, so shall we become.

This is a question all countries in the world should be asking themselves. As health measures and research improve, the increasing life expectancy in most countries lead to improving health, and therefore increasing numbers of older people, although the definition of ‘old’ varies.

I don’t think that I could name even one country in the world in which this question has even been asked, let alone successfully answered. The solution to the question of ageing populations seems to be to give them a pension if the country can afford it, otherwise leave them to the generosity of relatives which, if lacking, may involve begging on the streets.

Even in more advanced societies the question doesn’t get asked properly, but as standards rise, and with it the cost of living (and pensions), the only questions which are asked is how to pay for increasing pensions and accommodation for older people. In Australia we appointed a senior politician to look at ageing, particularly at this cost problem. She was apparently appointed for her years of service as a politician, not for her knowledge of ageing and the research done (by younger people) on it. Accordingly after years in the role her major suggestion was that employers be encouraged to enable older workers to stay in the workforce. This didn’t seem to be a very useful suggestion given that research shows that older people take the retirement option as soon as they can because they are bored at work, and feel that their talents aren’t utilised. They are hardly likely to want to continue in that situation no matter what their employers offer in the way of flexible hours etc.

The nearest I have come to finding a solution to this ‘unfulfilled’ attitude to work is through the seniorpreneurs movement which seems to get no government support or backing. In Australia and similar countries we have the most experienced and knowledgeable section of the population put out on the streets as it were in terms of employment and ideas. Our only support is the pension which merely maintains them and makes no use of what this group has to offer in terms of knowledge and experience. Everyone suffers, including the older people who on retirement may face up to 40 years of minimum, if any, contribution to society. This does no-one any good including the well-being of either the employers. older people or society.

These thoughts arose when I read the story of a 102 year old researcher at one of Australia’s  universities who has been asked to leave as apparently they were concerned about his safety. No weight was given to the large number of awards he has earned over his lifetime in a number of areas, and the extra amount of knowledge his work has given the world and the University. What disgusted me was that no-one at the University apparently had the brains to think of a better solution! This doesn’t help the University’s reputation nor its current staff. I suppose that none of them even had the guts to shoot him which would have been a better solution than the long, slow, unpleasant decline which is likely to follow this decision. Do they care?

Does any country which doesn’t really provide for its older citizens in terms of what they still have to offer, and enjoy offering, particularly in terms of self-esteem, either care or have the brains to solve? Meanwhile ageism prospers, just like racism and sexism. All three hinder prosperity for society and the world’s survival.

 

Centuries seem to be a convenient measuring unit for our history with each being accredited with specific human progress. The 19th century was the breeding ground for the industrial revolution, the 20th for two world wars followed by remarkable progress in technology which led to all parts of the world being instantly connected.

Are we now sufficiently civilised and knowledgeable to decide what we would like to achieve in the 21st century (we are now well into it) or will we just randomly move in whatever direction fate takes us? I would argue that since the whole world is connected in terms of easy communication we should be able to move from the selfish ‘I want’ of each country to a worldwide ‘We want’ of the world population. Diseases (pandemics) and climate change are making it very evident that the latter view is the only one that will work. If we accept this argument then can we take human history into our own hands and set goals to try to achieve it? It’s not a new idea, after all that is what the United Nations was set up to achieve, but that was in a different time, with different communications restrictions and different world values, particularly in terms of equality.

Is this early part of the 21st century an appropriate time for the world to decide that the legacy today’s people should leave is one of thinking in terms of a shared earth and setting goals for what we as its inhabitants want to leave for the generations who come after us? Do we want to set the agenda, as far as we can, for the 21st century and our legacy for our grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc.? Given the enormous skills, knowledge and abilities we have inherited from those who have gone before us let’s use them to create a unified, shared planet. Let’s not leave the legacy of the 21st century to chance but rather decide that this is the way to go to benefit the whole world population and plan to achieve that.

Wars, such as those currently in several parts of the world, benefit no-one except a few people’s ego’s and this is usually short lived. The damage to people’s lives lasts for far longer. The current situation where there are millions of displaced people across the world is a sad reflection on our skills as global population managers. We can do better than this. We just need a few people with a genuine passion for a better world for all to unite to push for new goals. In the 21st century we have the knowledge, skills and ability to achieve it. What are we waiting for?

 

I think that probably the worst side of ageing are the unknowns. I include among these the fact that we don’t know how much longer we will live and how unwell we may become and what form any disability will take. With the latter comes the concern about whether, how and if we will cope with it. Against this background of unknowns we try to create a productive lifestyle. We know we still have a lot to offer, even if many others don’t realise it!

These thoughts about unknowns came into my mind a few months ago when I began to realise that more people were treating me like an older person. For example, instead of getting to a pedestrian crossing and waiting for the traffic to stop it is now much more common for it to stop as I approach it. I think the fact that I am stooping more is contributing to the picture of ‘elderliness’.

So why am I stooping more, with the disadvantages this brings, such as not being able to reach high shelves? I assume it is because our bones deteriorate in thickness as we get older and therefore even our spines are not as straight. What other parts of me will become less efficient as time passes? Questions such as these form the great unknown of ageing.

Do we have our priorities right when we know so much about the moon and planets but so little about the lifespan of the human body, particularly as most of the world is undergoing population ageing? One of these has an immediate effect on this world, the other has been around since time began, and is likely to continue to do so, or is this too an out-of-date idea?

My last blog had a link to an article the World Health Organisation had about my work. It is easy to blame those who indulge in ‘ageism’ and look down on older people and treat us as children but it has occurred to me that just pointing out that this is an incorrect attitude is not enough. People these days like to have proof and I would encourage all older people who are achieving to submit their stories to the WHO website too. It is easy to say that all the criticism we older people receive is unfair and paints an incorrect picture of us. I think it’s also our responsibility to prove that our detractors have got it all wrong.

We have got so much to offer, so many ideas, so much knowledge and so much experience of life and human behaviour it seems sad when the world just dismisses us as little old men and women. We have so much to offer, but we need to show the world and change it’s attitude. We are the insiders when it comes to successful ageing. Meanwhile we need  to know more about what lies ahead of us in terms of our ageing bodies. It affects everyone eventually so it would be money well spent. Then we can just get on with achieving, making any necessary physical adjustments to our lives as we go, particularly if we have some idea of what lies ahead of us.

Click here to see my entry on the World Health Organisation’s Instagram feed
Most people would agree that the world is in a mess. Consider how clever humans are. The technological world we live in and our ability to travel beyond this planet, are just two of our many skills. What we don’t seem to be very good at is organising ourselves as the inhabitants of this planet. We are wrecking it by using too many of its resources and ignoring the effect of this, particularly in terms of air pollution and climate change. We also seem to lack the ability to set goals and aims for ourselves as societies. The fact that we are apparently incapable of controlling those whose aims are not in the public good, such as the current militants, is a sad reflection on our ability in this field.

One problem which is very much under the radar is the fact that across the world people are living longer and we don’t seem to know how to identify the effects of this, or what to do about it. The situation in developed countries is worse in the sense that the extra life span is really large and we still seem to be at first base in terms of working out how to deal with the situation.

It will become an ever increasing problem if we continue to view it as such, rather than seeing it for what it really is, a bonus. If we look at it objectively we have an increasing number of our wisest, most knowledgeable and experienced members of our community spending more time with us. Instead of looking at the situation in this way we tend to fob older people off as being ‘past it’ and of no further use to the community, simply because they have reached a particular age, rather than looking at their talents and abilities. We tend to exclude this group from society, pat them on the head and tell them to go off and enjoy themselves. As though they could, when they are given the impression that they are surplus to society’s requirements, particularly when we then start publically worrying about how much our attitude to them is costing us.

We are good at rocket science but not good at recognising the human wealth older people have to offer society. We should regard the elderly as a valuable human resource and utilise what they have to offer. I’m not ignoring the fact that the human body tends to deteriorate but we should be able to allow for this and the accompanying physical effects of ageing. It shouldn’t be an excuse to banish this group to the outskirts of society.

If we are to enable older people to continue to lead valuable lives, both physically and mentally, then it is up to society to rethink its attitude towards this group. If we don’t do this then we have to start not only adding up the costs of this policy to society but also to the individuals involved.

What a different world we would live in if someone worked out that the most prosperous and happiest society was the one which catered for the needs, and talents, of all its citizens and didn’t overlook groups such as the elderly who still have so much to offer. We’d all look at our ageing populations in a new light and our own time in this stage of life in a positive sense.