So many changes are happening in the world that affects me, yet change can lead in different directions, not always based on the common good.

We’ve just had elections here in Australia which could take us either way, either to improve we way we live or worsen it. The British have had an even more traumatic vote on whether to leave the European Union or not and in the background the Americans are preparing to elect a new President. These are all happening in particularly prominent countries, whereas most of what is happening in the rest of the world tends to fit into the ‘more of the same’ basket, with decisions largely only affecting those living in that country.

The Australian election is important to me as it obviously affects me but whether we are affected locally or internationally, we are still dependant on a relatively small handful of people for decision-making guidance. The British vote was a frightening example of this. Two men with parallel backgrounds coming through the cream of the British education system came to opposite positions on whether to stay in the European Union or not.

How could this happen?  Surely with all the access they had to knowledge and information they should have come to similar conclusions, whether staying or exiting would be better for the countries involved, particularly given that their education and training should have enabled the leaders of the two sides to sort the available knowledge accurately and intelligently? Given that the decision taken will have a huge impact on the people involved it places the population in a very vulnerable position.

Other decision-making situations could have equally devastating results, particularly the US elections. Decisions taken there tend to affect far more than merely the people under that jurisdiction.

The general population needs more information and guidance and we need it from intelligent, well-educated people who are not driven by their own particular dreams and aspirations.

Change is inevitable as the world in its entirety changes. How we manage that change depends on the information given to us about particular situations and who gives it to us in terms of their own particular aspirations.

Is the problem the fact that our access to knowledge is changing and we are not yet trained to know how to deal with it? Meanwhile what are our decisions based on, and what should they be based on, particularly in the collective field of voting?

Tomorrow I set off to eventually participate in the International Federation of Ageing 2016 conference in Brisbane (I am having a small deviation to Toowoomba first to catch up on a friend I’ve had for nearly 50 years). To me the conference is a special event as this is perhaps one of a few, if not the only, international conference on ageing which encourages older people to have our voices heard. Most conferences on this topic have registration fees for employees, with reduced ones for students but not for retirees who are the real experts in the field. If retirees are rich enough to afford to attend (which most are not, when you add transport and accommodation costs) only then are they are allowed to attend! I have recently pointed this out to the officials of two conferences on the topic of ageing but I got no reply. One can only guess why they won’t enable older people to attend and why they refuse to respond to a question about it!

These organisations not only put societies decades behind where we should be in terms of benefitting from having ageing populations but they stubbornly stick to their policies. It’s hard to determine where this will take us. We still stick to treating women as second class citizens but we are moving slowly forward in seeing the disadvantages of this. Unfortunately in terms of ageing we are still where we were with women 100 years ago. Not only do the targets of these policies suffer from them but so do the countries that practice them.

In my next blog I’ll report on how the conference went, and the extent to which older people contributed, and were encouraged to do so. Those are the two criteria for judging the success of conferences on ageing.

This week, in a country to Australia’s north, students set off, unarmed they claim, to march to their Prime Minister’s office to protest against his alleged rorts, believing he is setting aside, inappropriately, money for his own personal use. The result was police firing on the students, with at least one in hospital and others too frightened to seek treatment. There are no reports of any police being hurt, certainly not shot. The political reaction has been just as bad with parliament suspended for many weeks, presumably so that no awkward questions can be asked, not only about what happened with the students but also about their allegations. Is this democracy and if not, why not?

The situation in the USA is equally inexplicable. How can a man whose only claim to achievement seems to be the ability to collect money off other people have the distinct possibility of becoming the next President? It seems that in the USA the present incumbent of the position is the only non-rich person who has made it to that office. The other current alternative candidate herself fits the rich bill.

In Australia the incumbent prime Minister has the same qualification, that of being able to collect money off others and thus become rich. He had a lot of ability when younger but hasn’t found it necessary to formally upgrade his knowledge base for nearly 40 years, in spite of the massive increase in knowledge in the world.

New technology, and other new knowledge, is rapidly changing our world but our leaders seem to feel it unnecessary to keep themselves up to date and we as electors seem to feel that the only criteria for leadership is the ability to collect money from others. If we look at the messy world around us it seems to be true that people get what they deserve when they vote yet there are so many others striving to create a better world in an infinite number of fields.

There is at least one movement in Australia trying to choose our representatives in a way that more accurately reflects what ordinary voters, and hence the majority of people want. I suspect that means a fair go for all and settling disputes through conversation, not useless violence followed by conversation. After all, it is ordinary people who suffer the violence and aftermath of it. The current refugees are testament to this.

Meanwhile the pot of gold at the end of this story continues to be overlooked. The enormous wealth of knowledge, information, experience and ideas locked up in older people continues to be dismissed as a burden, with older people regarded as second class, dependent citizens. I only hope that those who come after the present generation of leaders will have learned more from their education and recognise the knowledge, expertise and value, not burden, of older people. Then we can have the sort of world ordinary citizens, including older people, really want.

 

The other evening I watched a discussion on television amongst prominent Australians who are pushing for more equality in society. The panel included a former chief of the army who highlighted the fight against discrimination against women in the army, a sex discrimination officer, a barrister who is campaigning against capital punishment and a young man who has set up a van with a washing machine in it and drives around offering to wash the clothes of the homeless. The level of conversation and caring was extremely high and it was a good representation of how we should be caring for the voiceless. It also reminded viewers that discussion is often also at a mundane level, such as whether using the term ‘guys’ for a group of people is sexist.

I’m raising this because although the discussion was largely about discrimination there was no mention of ageism and its accompanying discrimination against older people. We are still invisible.

This happened at a time when the International Federation for Gerontology and Geriatrics is organising a conference next year in San Francisco on ageing. They only have two registration prices, one for general participants and a discount price for students, no discount for retirees. I wrote to suggest that this means that they will be having a conference on ageing without the ageing, which would make it less accurate, but got no response. When will we wake up to the fact that older people can be valuable members of the community and our voices should be welcome, including at conferences on ageing (the real experts on this particular topic). When that happens the organisers of  this conference will look somewhat silly, and professionally inept and inaccurate.

I suppose my frustration parallels that of the suffragettes who also had to campaign for many decades for recognition of women’s rights and capabilities. You would think we would have learned from that fight but apparently not. The trouble is that ignoring all that older people have to offer is a costly error both for the country, the world and for older people as well.

I hope that there is an after life otherwise I suspect I will miss the opportunity to look down on television discussions and conferences in which older people take an equal place amongst other groups in society. I’m giving up hope of it happening in my lifetime!

The last couple of decades in particular have seen us make huge advances in communication and other areas of technology which seem to have affected the lives of many people in the world. The ones who have missed out are those who seem to miss out on everything- food, clothing, shelter and medical expertise. And we don’t seem to care.

Does humanity have to be like this? Is there one country in the world which is going against the trend and reducing the gap between the top rich 1% and the bottom poor 1%? If there is such a country I would guess that its leaders are not rich, as are currently the leaders, and potential leaders, in the most influential countries in the world.

Citizens in the USA seem to be heading in the direction of having to choose between two rich citizens for their next leader even though I am sure that there are many, many, people who would make better leaders because they have more knowledge and ability and are not tainted by being money addicts.

So many countries in the world have this problem of admiring the rich, presumably because they wish they were in that position themselves. In Australia the media is listing the top people on our rich list presumably lauding them for having this particular trait, which in the field of medicine would be labelled an addiction. In the past so many rich people have used their wealth to honour their names and families by putting their money into charitable trusts or noteworthy buildings, both of which honoured their memories for generations to come. Today’s rich seem more intent on spending as much of their wealth on themselves and leaving their offspring in the same situation rather than leaving a lasting memory. Is this because the Christian church, which encouraged the former behaviour, is no longer as influential as it was?

Is there no one today with the power and influence to encourage a fairer sharing of resources? Could I be right in feeling that if we did have fewer rich people and fewer poor people the world would be a much better place? We can’t just assume that those at the bottom leg of the ladder are brainless and untalented. Many of those who have reached the top today have done so because they got a leg up and opportunities from their rich families, rarely just from their own abilities.

Could we measure the degree of success of today’s world by the extent to which the basic necessities are available to all, and all have access to a good education and the opportunity to make use of it to the best of their ability? If we could make such a measurement I suspect today’s world  would end up with a big ‘FAIL’.

This isn’t good enough. In the past the plague affected everyone, rich and poor, and today’s superbugs are threatening to do the same. We need to pull together to make this world a happier successful place which we all share. Technology and other modern advances can’t do this on their own- it needs a caring human race to facilitate it.

I don’t know if Australia is behind the rest of the world in its politicking but our politicians are certainly living in the last century as far as prenting political policies are concerned. We have several good organisations which are able to model political ideas, and work out the effect of them, but for some reason our politicians prefer to put out policies without measuring their effects.

Two serve as examples. Quite large numbers of backpackers come out here and work their way around the country, sight-seeing, meeting locals and more importantly  helping our fruit growers in harvesting seasonal products which don’t warrant fulltime, year round employees. It is a win-win situation for both groups. The conservative politicians have seen this as a pot of gold and are intending to increase the income tax on the backpackers. The result is that many of them have diverted to Canada and New Zealand instead, apparently countries where their governments are more knowledgeable about the situation. We are missing out on what was a beneficial arrangement, the backpackers miss out on seeing Australia and the fruit growers won’t get their crops harvested. This reflects 20th century policy determination when we weren’t able to work out the effects of disastrous policies like this would be.

The other policy which also seems like a stab in the dark is that of negative gearing, in which people who own rental policies are able to offset expenses properties they don’t live in themselves against tax on their income. This benefits people who can afford to buy more than one property, with the rich owning several property’s and getting even richer. The main concern is the effect this has on house values with some suggesting that this artificially raise house prices, forcing young prospective first home buyers out of the market. Again modelling should be able to ascertain the effect of doing away with negative gearing, retaining the current system, or what to me would be a more sensible solution of allowing it to only apply to one property.

Unless the experts can be asked to research the effects of such policies voters are left to take a stab in the dark about the outcomes of such policies and which way to vote. Hardly the basis for determining two important monetary policies in the 21st century. It’s time our politicians moved into the 21st  century in determining policy. We now look in vain for evidence of the effects of new party policies in order to cast a valid vote.

 

 

Australia is currently preparing for a general election at the beginning of July. This time it is for the whole of both houses because the prime minister told upper house members that if they didn’t vote for two pieces of his legislation he would cause a spill of all their positions. Bills should be passed on their merits, not because members are being bullied to pass them or risk losing their jobs. This undemocratic behaviour was accepted without a word of dissent by parliamentarians and members of the public. Is bullying so entrenched in our society that we don’t even recognise it?

A couple of years ago one lady saw her former husband murder their son very publically- he then killed himself so he avoided retribution. She had suffered years of bullying from him before this event and had a police order against him approaching her. Unfortunately the death of her son took place at a public event ( cricket practice) so the order would have been difficult to apply.

As a result of her ordeal she set up a campaign to raise awareness of physical bullying which has now resulted in a series of television ads showing scenes of physical bullying. I think that this is a wonderful outcome of the mother’s suffering and will result in their being less of this type of violence. It also shows how one ordinary citizen can make a difference to other people’s lives.

My concern is that there are two types of bullying- physical and mental and unfortunately the latter is harder to recognise and prevent, hence the ease with which the prime minister got away with it, even though it violated our democracy.

One of the huge problems with the present situation is that to my knowledge there is no research into what makes a bully, which it is why it is hard to recognise and deal with. As a teacher I was aware of it, particularly amongst the staff. It was mental bullying, in which these people were determined to establish their superiority, which is what motivates bullying of either type. It was so successful that one teacher rose to be head of one of the largest public schools. He certainly didn’t have the normal leadership qualities.

We need to recognise this cancer within our society, and through recognition, eliminate it. It isn’t good for society and is a detriment to genuine progress. It is going to be interesting to see the outcomes of the election – whether the prime minister’s bullying paid off or not  and whether it eliminated what he felt was an obstructionist upper house, or strengthened it, and whether he himself is re-elected.

To finish off my story about the two bullies I worked with. Both of them were called in to their sons’ primary schools over bullying issues- one son was also being a bully, the other was being bullied (apparently his behaviour attracted the school’s bullies). Is this where bullying is learned, at home?

 

Last night I watched a program about changes which have occurred in mankind’s history for the past few thousand years, using photos from space to illustrate the changes. I hadn’t realised that the Europeans were the last to change from being hunter gatherers to farming communities.  With the invention of the steam engine in the UK they quickly grew from small communities to cities, necessary for the mass production enabled by the engine. They continue to grow today with all the problems these produce, including congestion and impersonalisation. When we consider the rural communities our ancestors lived in approximately 250 years ago, where everyone knew everyone else,  to the anonymous cities  today in which people often don’t even know their next door neighbours, we have undergone huge changes in a short space of time.

Life itself has quickened up, particularly with speedier transport. In the early days of the trains people predicted a limited lifespan for them as they went so fast: 30 miles per hour! Equally disadvantageous was the loss of the green environment in which we lived. It had given us a link to the living world around us and of which we were part. It provided us with our food and clothing and the other necessities of life. Our modern supermarkets do an inadequate job in replacing this world. Our children grow up with the idea that food comes from the supermarket fridge, not from the soil around us.

This is important because those who are looking at the big picture are concerned that at the present rate of land usage from the growing cities, there won’t be enough space left to feed us. They are suggesting growing it in food towers which can grow it more efficiently with less water. They don’t seem to have come up with a solution to the huge amounts of land required for meat production- cages are becoming very unpopular. We are going to have to face these issues in the next few decades. Meanwhile our cities will continue to grow along with their disadvantages.

Our leaders don’t even seem to be aware of where we are heading and far too many individuals are only concerned with their own day-to-day problems, only thinking of difficulties in relation to these.

The main message of the TV program was that the time has past when we could think in terms of our own ambitions at a national level- what we should be doing is thinking at a world level and where this planet, our common home, is heading. Because it has survived so long as a home for us all it is easy to think that what has always been will continue to be, whereas the opposite is likely to happen.

As our cities continue to grow, so will all the problems associated with them. Maybe ordinary citizens could start with this problem, particularly as it will only get worse as more people are attracted to them. Lets make a joint effort to humanize them. That would at least be a start to us all pulling together in the problems ahead.

This is a strange time to be one of the elders of the world.  In developed countries in particular we haven’t yet come to terms with our ageing populations. We are adopting a ‘more of the same’ approach from the past which isn’t working  either for us older people or the communities we live in. I am under the impression that developing countries are starting to encounter the same problems.

Personally, in Australia which prides itself on being a multicultural society, I find myself facing very different situations. Twice recently I have found myself dealing with two people from very different non-Australian backgrounds. One decided that as a little old lady I could be bullied and she tried this approach. Needless to say it didn’t work- she had underestimated me! The other person, from a very different background, seemed to think that as an older person I might have an interesting story. We had a great conversation as we shared ideas. This second approach is the way to go and has more positive consequences. Our strength is in sharing intergenerational ideas, no matter what our background is.

Meanwhile those in power seem blinded by the idea that we older people are merely a cost and therefore a burden. All they can see is a generation which is adding to costs and will continue to do so as our numbers grow. I wonder how long it will be before our leaders see the older generation as an asset, with ideas based on historical development, not the here and now approach currently in play. We also need to realise that not all ideas are costly and need loads of resources. I will forever have in my mind the photo of the Indian mother and daughter who realised that if you slant the lines at the front of a zebra crossing it will look 3D and therefore slow traffic down. A simple, cheap idea which can save lives across the world. Why can’t all older people be encouraged to think differently and come up with such ideas, rather than merely being dismissed as an economic burden?

It’s not all bad news. Warrigal Care, which runs aged care facilities, from independent living to palliative care, on several sites in one Australian state is planning to celebrate ‘Go Grey in May’ and ‘the contributions older people make to our lives’ by having a photographic exhibition. I would like to think that this attitude is one everyone will have towards older people in the future.

 

This week, for the second week in a row, I have visited a small country town in Australia. This time it was Dubbo, a small inland town with about 36622 residents and a catchment area of 130000. It is a farming community although currently they are in the midst of a prolonged drought. The drive there makes you aware of why it is currently called a dust bowl- the landscape has a cloud of dust above it.

At one point I was trying to find the local shopping centre and asked directions of a lady who turned out to be a leading light in the town. She was going to the same place and we chatted as we walked there. Before we parted company she gave me an 8 page pamphlet, published by the local people, of all the events in town they were organising. There were about 30 listed, from gardening groups to writers, musicians, a historical society, arts and crafts, theatre, dining, to cooperation with the Sydney Opera House. What a vibrant community.

This made me realise how important local communities are and that this is the major problem with our cities. I am not sure what city planners are concerned with, I can only assume it is with roads and transport and housing siting and other non-human items. This lack of acknowledgement of the human needs of city dwellers is what makes them the disastrous places they usually are, particularly for older people.

My suggestion is that we design cities, and renovate them, in terms of smaller designated areas round a central hub, probably with local shops and some form of meeting place. It would be an area which allowed, and encouraged, all the activities currently Dubbo makes available to its citizens. It would be designed around humans, not merely convenient areas for the provision of water, electricity and other local governance responsibilities. If we put people first we will have much healthier and happier communities.

This is not a dream world idea although it will be difficult to implement initially, simply because it has always been a neglected area of city life and planning. When cities first developed they were created in the interests of the manufacturers who needed a large supply of workers for their factories. Workers were merely commodities. We have now evolved to the stage where workers are recognised as people who will work better and more creatively if they are treated properly. They will also be healthier and happier. We have centuries of catching up to do in our cities.

My final morning in Dubbo was surrounded by a cloud of female motorcyclists (and their partners). They were meeting at the local showground. If they could get 900 of them together it would be a world record. Apparently they held it 2 years ago but the Brits took it off them! What struck me was what a happy group they were, pleased to be together joining up with other bikies from across Australia. Needless to say this good news event didn’t hit the national news. After all, they were regarded merely females and bikies, not young women harmlessly enjoying themselves, passing on their pleasure and enjoyment of life to others.