Monthly Archives: October 2014

Small Voices of Support: Personal and National – by Mikel Azure

So I started thinking about my next blog.

I started with Maz’s distressing and honest blog about the woman hating public acid attacks that have been occurring in her city.

I was thinking about Maz’s post and the situation she described and what it might feel like to be a woman in that city right now.

Then I felt my powerlessness to help Maz, or her Iranian sisters in any direct way.

Then I reviewed what I had offered Maz in words already and decided there was little value in offering the same words online a few days later, which only underscored my sense of powerlessness to help.

Then I thought maybe I could write a blog about how Australia engages the issue of powerlessness as a culture.

I could not identify any consistent dialogue in my country around the issue of powerlessness in any general sense, but there are pockets of conversation around specific instances of powerlessness such as in Feminism and the impact of male entitlement on women or discourse among people open to the Aboriginal experience since white invasion and settlement.

These various thought steps drew my attention to something that might be interesting to compare between our countries – the role of intellectual/abstract dialogue and conversation in the public/common culture of our countries.

Despite Australia producing a huge number of world class scientists and scholars and having very high quality tertiary education sector (So good that foreign students paying for education at our universities is our third largest source of export income!) our public life does not value intellectuals or scholars and does not seek their input or value their hard earned capacity to think and analyse and clarify issues or offer solutions or focus questions effectively.

I wouldn’t say Australia had an “anti-intellectual” stance, just a total disinterest in what intellectuals and those trained or inclined to reflection and analysis might offer the common public dialogue.

There is a strong undercurrent of intelligent commentary present in our roots music culture and that has some credibility in the public arena but beyond that, intellectuals, artists, poets, writers, scholars, just not considered worthwhile in our public discourse.

I know many other countries have strong traditions of valuing scholars and poets, philosophers and artists as significant voices in the public discourse.

Perhaps there would have been more voices speaking about “powerlessness” for me to engage as part of contributing an “Australian” voice to this blog if my country did value intellectuals, philosophers and artists more than we do.

So Maz and her Iranian sisters must wrestle with their physical powerlessness in the face of a violent threat against them in public spaces and they must wrestle with that threat being treated ambiguously by authorities who should be working to keep them safe and standing with them at such a time of danger, another form of powerlessness for them to suffer under.

I only need to wrestle with my powerlessness to offer help to Maz, a real, but much less significant experience of powerlessness, the powerlessness of the distant witness.

My country lacks even the public discourse capable of recognising that powerlessness exists as a shared human experience. We seem happy sometimes to recognise that there are people at the margins of society who are significantly and obviously powerless but the powerlessness of the middle class majority – nope, never want to see that, never want to talk about it and especially don’t want to talk about the powerlessness of the gender majority – females.

I can offer one possible illustration of an “Australian” attitude towards power and powerlessness – how we acknowledge our role in various wars over the last century.

Australian symbols drawn from our war experience are not symbols or icons related to “great victories” or “combat heroics” which I see as celebrating the successful use of violent power. Australia has mostly made symbols and icons of comradeship in war, compassion towards the suffering in war, celebrating the way soldiers supported each other in their mutual powerlessness, making a value out of endurance and resilience in the face of loss and powerlessness. I could make a good argument for this analysis if forced to.

All the same, that only illustrates what I said earlier – the public discourse here, what little there is, is concrete and specific rather than abstract and analytical. People telling their, concrete and specific, stories is common here and my country does provide venues for a diversity of stories to be told in the public sphere.

However there is little informed reflection, analysis or generalization of what those stories mean to us as a nation or what they tell us about ourselves as a nation. Until we start valuing those people who have the skills and experience to DO that reflecting and analysing I can’t see how this deficit will change any time soon.

If you are particularly well informed you might comment that Australia is a very active participant in the United Nations and in various Commonwealth Human Rights organisations. That would be correct, but most Australians would have no idea what is said on their behalf in those places – what is said there does not draw on the public discourse within Australia’s common culture because there is not such abstract/values discourse in our common culture, only in certain sub sections of our society.

So not only is my voice in support of Iranian women mostly an expression of powerlessness, my nation seems to have even LESS of a voice to offer…..

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Isfahan Nesf e Jahan – by David Fee

These days I usually avoid watching or reading the news. It was a decision I made a while ago because of the debilitating effect it has on me. I don’t believe that compassionate human beings have the psychological capacity to handle  the enormous amounts of BAD news from around the world  that are available, in this age of limitless information, at the click of a mouse. At least I don’t seem to. It can make a person feel incredibly helpless in the face of  terrible and complex situations that we can often do very little about. It can eventually breed, even in compassionate people, a kind of cynicism that acts as a shield like protection to our psyches.

In the not too distant past we didn’t get this news on tap. Maybe we would hear about something that happened in the next village or city after a day or two. But it could be weeks, months, or even years before we heard about events from further afield. If we ever heard. The problems that we mostly had to confront were our own problems, or the problems of our neighbours or our community. They were manageable, and we could potentially do something about them.

Never the less, I think it is  a wonderful thing that, due to modern communications, we are potentially  able to be connected to a truly global village. It offers us the chance to see ourselves as part of something much bigger. Our family, we can now appreciate far more, is the whole of the human race. The danger comes when there is too big a disconnect between the news and information we hear (or avoid) and our own lives. A large part of the reason I started this communal, global blog is for that very reason. I want the pictures and stories that travel continually around the world to have some kind of rooted presence in my head. Even with my fairly decent imagination, I need to be able to put a face to the news.

The news from Marzieh’s home city of Isfahan certainly did that. First I want to send our love and thoughts to Marzieh, and her family. And to all the people of Isfahan, particularly the women, who are having to endure the real terror of these horrible attacks. After reading her blog I followed up by actually reading some of the press reports about what has been happening in Isfahan, and some of the reactions from the people and the politicians. They suddenly became relevant to me. Because I know Maz. I know her family. I’ve been to Isfahan. But I hope that even though most of us on this blog haven’t met her, we can start to feel a connection with her, and even though in many senses we are still helpless in the face of another horrific story from a distant part of the world, there is now actually something we can do. We can talk to and support someone who is there. We can listen to an account that is not just one among many in another bad news day. It comes from somebody we have a connection with.

Marzieh mentioned in her very first post on this blog  the phrase Isfahan Nesf e Jahan, which means Isfahan is half of the world. I can say for sure that it is a beautiful city, with many beautiful people. But it also has, like far too many places, it’s religiously motivated misogynists. Men who hate women and who hide behind their faith in a cowardly fashion to carry out cowardly acts of terror. Today I would like to honour the strong, brave and   beautiful women of Isfahan, and the men who stand by their side against these bullys. We support you even though we live half a world away.

Unrelated to old age

I know this is unrelated to the current topic, but I want to tell you what has been going on in my city during the past month. Mostly, because it’s all I can think about right now. During the past month there have been a number of cases of motorcyclists pouring acid on random young women on the streets of Isfahan. I say a number of because there seems to be no certainty as to how many; according to officials (I’m going to be using this word a lot an no names, and I don’t really think it matters much anyway) there might have been 8 to 11, although one official insists there have only been 4 victims. Last week one official said they had arrested 3 to 4 people related to this case (again not sure if 3 or 4) and another stated, only a few hours later, that no one had been arrested. This has obviously caused a lot of fear and unrest. There has been talk of a new legislation allowing everyone in society to guide others to the right path or the path of god. And one cleric had said it has become necessary to take action against women without the correct form of Hijab. So, it seems rational for most to assume these violent actions to be related to this new legislation, and a sign of what may come if it’s passed. Officials have tried hard to deny any relation between the two; they have called them the actions of one lunatic and not an organized crime of a group with a certain belief. I’m not certain what the truth is, and although I have seen it again and again, I still find the prospect that beliefs may drive people to such hatred and violence, and to cause such fear and disharmony in a society terrifying. Maz

The Importance of the Intergenerational

IMG_1660My first week as a freelance writer for the Lamorinda Weekly, I was assigned to cover a presentation entitled “Hearing Aids: Fact or False Advertising”. I took the story, put on my “reporter clothes,” and attended the presentation in a room full of white-haired lens-sporting seniors. Months later I was assigned another “seniors story,” an article on the Lafayette Historical Society and the efforts they were making to record the stories of “living legacies,” of older community members. Before I knew it, I had a “beat,” and my beat was the senior population of an aging community.

I have learned so much from the people I have interviewed, not only about their personal lives, interests and stories (which are often fascinating in and of themselves), but also about some of the situations and mentalities that surround the perception and treatment of the older portion of the population. I recently showed up at the 10-year celebration of a senior ladies book club and afterward got to talking with one of the members. “This group is just wonderful,” she said of the dozen or so women. It seemed that no one could say enough about how supportive and thoughtful and encouraging they all were. “But you know,” the woman added, “my favorite events and experiences are the ones that are inter-generational.” I nodded, realizing that at this point in my life this is just as true for me as it is for her–that I value being around children, teenagers, middle-aged parents and seasoned veterans of life. Another member of the book club added that though she enjoys many of the activities that are targeted at seniors, “every one is just so old.”

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The No Guilt Book Club

She laughed, fully realizing that she herself is now one of these “old people,” but it got me to thinking about the way that we group people by their age demographics, at least here in the States. There are age specific sports teams and reading groups, community events and church activities. There are “toddlers groups” and “teen book clubs,” “senior yoga” and “young adult dancing meet ups.” We get so wrapped up about making things “fair,” when it comes to competition and equality that we lose the wonderful beautiful that happens when a 25-year-old guy and an 8-year-old girl are both fixing a puzzle, running a three-legged race, or carving a pumpkin.

Perhaps one of the reasons that post-retirement persons are so often overlooked or forgotten is because we have made it so easy to do so, because we have categorized and pigeon-holed and separated our society into age groups, and in making that division we have lost what it means to be an integrated society.

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I was 17 when my last grandparent passed away. I hadn’t even finished high school. There have been very few seniors involved in my life since, and the older I get the more I see this as a loss. I feel the same way about children, having none of my own and having grown up in communities of my peers. There is something really wonderful about the duality of perspective that is present in an intergenerational community. There is wisdom coming from all points of the age spectrum. Everyone learns. Everyone grows. Maybe a key part of respecting our elders is also seen in respecting our children. Our teenagers. Our young adults and seasoned professionals. Instead of singling them out as special, perhaps we first need to integrate them as similar.

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Ageing – The Gender Double Standard by Mikel Azure.

This won’t take long.

You read my title, did you recognise what it refers to?

 

In Australia, in adverts, in videos, on tv, in the magazines, in all online media the standard is double – a man with wrinkles is presented as attractive to women much younger than him, the reverse is rarely if ever modelled.  Age and sexual attractiveness is modelled very differently for men and women in our media.

Yes, the whole category of sexually attractive and proactive women beyond the age of thirty five, has become a “thing” in some circles but the overall message is still the double standard.  Indeed if you really take a look at the way these sexually attractive and active women are portrayed there is usually a subtext of “danger” or “unpredictable” in the portrayal, an old, OLD way to undermine powerful women through the ages.

Despite that ambiguous exception the general message sent in all the media portrayals in Australia is that getting older has no relevance to a man’s sexual attractiveness unless he is old and poor or old and ugly or VERY old.  Meanwhile women are sent the message that only their youthfulness is important and once that is lost they cease being significantly attractive.

These messages advantage men and disadvantage women on multiple levels.

In Australia, we tell our men not to fear ageing related to sexual attractiveness, we tell our women the opposite.  As we all age and cannot avoid it, that puts Australian women in a steel corner that Australian men are free from.

When it comes to ageing and attractiveness the playing field in Australia is not even.

Peace.

 

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Don’t retire David!

Yesterday one of my students mentioned that he really gets angry when people say: “I feel old”. This comment came after one of his teachers, female, of course, made the comment that she feels old. She must be late 20’s, early 30’s… Obvioulsy my student’s comment is part of his idea of respectful and polite flirtering, and my colleague loved it. I laughed, because being an early 30’s surrounded by late teenagers or early 20’s students, she had a point. I feel old too.

However, this is not at all a bad thing. In fact, it’s strange how the word ‘old’ became to have a negative connotation when it actually implies many positive things. Of course I would much prefer to say ‘I feel wiser’, or ‘I feel experienced’, which usually I do because I can’t believe how childish 21 years old can be! I was never like that! (yeah right!) but then I would sound arrogant and probably dislike by my students. Saying ‘I feel old’ seems like a humble state of mind. Also, someone told me that being wise or experienced are relative labels because in 5-10 years will realise that right now we were not as wise and experience as we liked to think we were.

So, if we accept that being wise or experienced are relative, then being old is too. It’s not a state a mind, it’s a process. And it’s a very rewarding process. You need time to grow old, and it’s great when you know that you lived the things your loved, you did the things you wanted to do… and the memories are just priceless. They come with bad memories too, but it’s part of the process. If someone ask me if I could go back in time just to be younger, I don’t think I would accept the offer. I love the life I lived, and if that meant to get older, so be it… Maybe tomorrow I will think different… but for now, I just want to sound wiser! Ha.

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Feeling Primal Baby! – By David Fee

Wow. I could just sit back in my rocking chair (it rocks!) and listen to you guys blog all day. Honestly. I’m thinking of retiring early from this blogging business. Leave it to the experts. That could be my new motto. (Unlike Mikel I enjoy short stumpy sentences, though I occasionally enjoy the challenge of writing a long, meandering, mind blowing,  word-marathon – between stops – although it always feels that I am, in those instances, causing the sentence to live up to it’s other meaning).

Last time, I’m afraid I didn’t do the issue of being Old In The UK (which is probably not wholly unrelated to the seminal Sex Pistol’s song Anarchy In The UK) much justice. That was because of a combination of time limitations,  a finickity ipad keypad, the battery power (lack of) that I mentioned…and the fact that I was feeling particularly  tired when writing. I’m feeling that a little bit now too. I’ve taken on an awful lot recently, apart from all the usual madness at Fee mansions, and I’m needing to settle into a new set of rhythms. So my apologies to the old people of Britain for not representing their particular dilemmas very thoroughly.

Next year I turn 50, and in truth I’m quite looking forward to it. It seems like such a great age. I’m getting excited by new visions for the future. Stuff to do. Stuff to make happen. Stuff that it has taken all these years of getting old enough, brave enough, wise enough (splutter, choke, giggle) and strong enough to try. And despite the aforementioned tiredness, in general I am feeling physically good. I have recently become convinced that the allegedly inevitable rush towards the physical decline and decay of old age isn’t quite so inevitable as we’ve been led to believe. I have to come to think that there are things we can do in regard to the way we eat, and the way we live, that can make it far more likely that we maintain an ability to live full and enjoyable lives until we decide to sit back in the aforementioned rocking chair and let the sun set on our existence.

About 11 years ago I stopped smoking (well, in the tobacco inhaling sense of the word anyway) and it was one of the best things I ever did, both in physical and psychological terms.  I am a LOT fitter at 49 than I was at 39. Some of that change has happened in the last 6 months, as I have made significant changes to my diet, which have increased my love of food, AND caused me to lose weight and feel heaps better. I’ve also increased my fitness by generally being more active, and occasionally doing things that I haven’t done since I was in my teens. Like run as fast as I can now. Or balance myself walking along a wall. Or climb stuff. And generally be on my feet more of the time.

If you’re interested,  one very good source for a bit of self education is a very informed blog called Mark’s Daily Apple. Ignore the adds for supplements etc, which make’s it look like a typical site of it’s kind. There is some brilliant and challenging stuff on there if you’re willing to delve. I also recommend a book called The Primal Blueprint which is a useful summary of the whole philosophy. I should emphasise that, despite appearances, I’m not on a percentage for this recommendation. It’s just been very helpful for me.

It’s very unacceptable in my part of the world to talk about the possility of change. Far more acceptable to be cynical, resentful, apathetic about the world we live in. And about our personal lives. I make no apologies for approaching the subject of old age like it’s a thing to be challenged, not endured. Though i’m quite aware that endurance is how it seems to be, or perhaps actually is, for many. I am more than happy to embrace and accept the things that are unchanging and unchangeable. Like death. But hey, as some stupidly optimistic, idealistic, cliche-inventing madman said at the beginning of some hare brained scheme: you do only live once. Better not squander the possibilities.

The age old old age problem – Neale Christy

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Good morning Vietnam!!!!!!!!!!! (Is this still relevant? No? Dammit, late again.) I apologize for my one week hiatus from the It’saSmallWord (trade mark sign) world, but I was taking some me time. I’m really incredibly busy and important (and not at all absent minded or lazy) and sometimes this means I don’t put things on the internet for people(?) to read/mock/post angry emails about. My suspicion is that my one reader will survive.

So. Old people. I’ve really enjoyed pretending to read through everyone else’s posts on the topic. Like really. Top notch words on “old”, guys. I particularly enjoyed it when Amanda wrote that witty anecdote about people who are old. And when Abner said those words that Abner said. Just wonderful.

As you all have probably gathered, the West[1] is not the biggest of fans of the elderly. Well, I suppose TECHNICALLY, the west isn’t the biggest fan of GROWING old, but if you’re the “it” girl/boy of the 7cm bifocal and mahogany cane brigade, chances are you’re going to be the recipient of some “I AM TERRIFIED OF GROWING OLD” disdain/ire/hatred.

In any event, ”growing old is boring,” we are told. Poppycock. Have you ever stopped to think about all the things old people are allowed to do that are actually totally awesome? No, you say? Because you have a real life and real things to do, you mumble dismissively? Fantastic! Allow me to enlighten you… With another super cool list!

  1. You can use words like Poppycock. Or lavatory. Or jumper. Without feeling the remotest inkling of shame. The world expects these words of you. Give the people what they want.
  2. You can go to the bathroom all the time. As a young person, it’s kind of frowned upon to go to the bathroom a lot. It freaks out comp’ny. So you have to grin and bear it. You’re also not allowed to use multiple bathroom visits as a means of avoiding tedious conversations. As people will think there’s something wrong with you. When you’re old though – there probably is something wrong with you! So go to the bathroom to your heart’s content.
  3. You can wear slippers everywhere. People tell me crocs are comfortable. People tell me running shoes are comfortable. But there is only one truly comfortable piece of footwear – the slipper. And old people are allowed to rock these bad boys everywhere. Lucky.
  4. No need to ever go to the bathroom again. Not going to elaborate, ‘cos gross. But seriously. Never.
  5. You can go to bed at 6PM. You know those days where you just “can’t deal” anymore and would rather just go to sleep, but can’t because it’s 6PM and that would be “like, total freaking social suicide”? Well this is not a problem when you’re an old person! Go to sleep insanely early. Wake up at 3am. Do “you”, man.
  6. It doesn’t matter what you say. Or to whom. Old people get away with saying anything, regardless of how offensive and inappropriate or non-sensical, just because they’re “cute and old”. Basically, you have licence to be a bad-ass baller thug. With a pimp cane. And grills.

I think I’d make a really good old person right now. But, if I’m honest, the idea of growing old terrifies me too. But I think what terrifies me most, at the moment, is the fear that I will have missed out on something, whether that be love or an accomplishment or life experiences or some or other skill. Or just something that I’ve delayed and put off with excuses until one day I wake up and realize it’s too late and I’ve missed my chance to do or to be or to love. And I think this is the biggest thing I take from any discussion about aging. The reminder not to let stuff that you don’t care about prevent you from doing stuff you do, because no-one wants to wake up one day with more regrets than memories. If you get that right, I think, it shouldn’t really matter what “the world” thinks about you when you’re old. ‘Cos you’ll be a bad-ass OG (with a pimp cane and grills), looking back on a full life and a clutch of happy memories.

(And if you get it wrong? That’s life I guess. Try not to take it too seriously. We’re all going to die.)

[1] South Africa, where I’m from, is obviously not technically part of the “West”, geographically. Although, I suppose, technically-technically (how many technicallys could I put in here before the word becomes redundant) it is, as “West” was originally used to describe anything West of “the east” – China, India, Japan etc. But, in an ideological sense, South Africa has always identified with Europe and to a lesser extent the US when it comes to trends and values, our similar views on growing old being a case in point.

Aging in the United States (Part One)

IMG_1660  My goodness! It has been so interesting to read the posts that have been shared on the topic of aging and the treatment of elders in society. I have refrained from blogging on the topic myself, not because I have nothing to say, but because there is so very much to discuss. So much, in fact, that I will need multiple posts to do it.

First, a word aging.

This year, I entered my late-twenties. It was sobering for a number of reasons. One being that though I am not yet “old” by American standards, I am no longer “young” either. “Young” is before you have wrinkles or sun spots; before your metabolism plummets and your body shows the effects of it. “Young” is before all of your friends are married and established and buying houses and having babies. “Young” is when you are still in school, still wandering and wondering and not at all settled on anything. “Young” is before your body reaches its physical peak, at which point you move from “Young” to “Ideal” and then swiftly onto “Aging” as you make your way toward “Old.”

“Young” is “pre-Ideal.” Though few women ever really meet the American version of the “Ideal” woman, each female does at some point hit the physical peak that is her own “Ideal.” It is elusive and fleeting and if you’re not careful you’ll miss it entirely. You may even sleep through that moment of “Ideal” and wake up to find yourself “Aging” and quickly on your way to “Old.”

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Does she look like she’s aging to you?

All of that said, “Old” is not something that Americans think of fondly. At least, not in my experience. Aging is a painful and detestable process. I have seen advertisements for wrinkle creams and skin care products since I was a child. I have been fed this idea of the “Ideal” and now that I have reached the age of the target audience, I am only too aware of how much time and money I could spend attempting to stop, stifle, or disguise the effects of aging.

These are lines that are regularly used to sell products: “Stop signs of aging,” “Slow the aging process,” “Rewind time,” “Look younger than ever,” etc. Youth, beauty, flawless skin–it can all be yours if you use these creams. serums and three-step cleansers. And that’s just what you do for your face. Forget the rest of your sagging, aging, aching body.

I apologize if I’m being overly dramatic, but this is something that really gets to me–this focus on the physical changes that come with aging and the ridiculous amount of attention, concern and disdain that we give them. Because there are really truly wonderful things that can happen to your mind, soul and spirit years after you have passed your physical prime. And in my culture, these things do not get nearly enough attention.
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It is only now that I have less-than-gracefully started my own aging process, that I am seeing what is meant by the cultivation of wisdom and experience, of the “inner beauty” that we sometimes mention, but that too few of us intentional pursue.

This past semester I have been immersed in the world of seniors (that is what we call citizens over the age of 65; for the most part I think this is okay with them, but everyone has their own reaction to being granted “senior status”). I write for a local paper in a community that is brimming with folks over the age of 65, entire towns that are dominate by seniors. I cover their stories–hearing aid conferences, book clubs, softball leagues, etc. And in sitting down to interview these individuals, I feel I am dining on the caviar of their memories, being treated to the decadent delicacies that come from a life well-lived. I am also teaching a memoir writing class in cooperation with my graduate program and Lafayette Senior Services. My first week of class, I asked each of my students to introduce themselves and share a bit about where they were from and what they were writing. I was floored to see so much life in such a small space.

When I look at the women in my class I do not see their wrinkles or sun spots. I do not notice if their hair is thinning or their eyes are weak. I see their history. I hear their wisdom. I listen to them tell me stories about being a child in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was bombed; of losing a husband to cancer or a brother to war. I see women who have raised children and carted them across the world and back. I hear their laughter. I value their humor. And I absolutely live for the connections that we make with one another. Here, I think. Here is someone I can learn from.

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Though I may no longer be Young, I also am not yet Old. But Old is something I hope to reach, and Aging is the path that gets me from here to there, at least that is how I would like to view it; it is how I am learning to view the passage of time, not as slipping through my fingers, but as getting me one step closer to wisdom and understanding.

In the past two years I have gained weight and acquired wrinkles. I have found the first of my gray hairs and have all but lost the ability to pull an all-nighter. But I have also learned patience (while simultaneously learning to love children). I have grown in kindness and generosity and flexibility. I have deepened in the ability to love and empathize, gone deeper into my heart than I knew that I could. I have even begun cultivating the tiny seedlings of what might grow into wisdom. It is actually a pretty fair trade off, though I do not always view it as such. It is a process I will go through whether I like it or not. Wisdom would tell me it is best to enjoy the ride.

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Longer Aussie Lives Bring New Challenges. By Mikel Azure.

It is a common enough story in Australia, a man has a traditional life path, school, uni or trade school, work or career for forty years then retirement. Along the way he marries and has children, perhaps divorces and marries again, but he always works, not in the one company, those days are long gone, but he prides himself to be a “good provider” and a “good worker” and by the time he reaches retiring age at around 65 he feels he has earned a nice long holiday at last. Six months later this man is depressed, perhaps suicidal, or he is looking for consulting work in his former professional field or he spends most of every day at the Pub (Drinking establishment) with a beer in one hand and some kind of gambling slip in his other hand, all day, every day.

It is a common enough story, only the suicide versions get any media coverage, as if that particular solution is the only one which is a problem. Perhaps you wonder what I mean by “solution”? What is the problem that needs a solution?

You can frame the problem various ways, I frame it as an IDENTITY problem.

Many Australian males core identity is based in their work role. The idea that they have a “good job” and are a “good provider” or “earn good money”. That is the core focus of their sense of self worth and purpose in life.

THAT is a problem, very few people lie on their death beds feeling contented with their life because of the career they had! Most people remember family and relationships and friendships that made the meaning in their lives and that told them who they were and who were the purpose of their existence. How do I know this? I have been a nurse and a minister and a counsellor, it has always been part of my role to listen to people who were facing death or grappling with the meaning of their life.

When that 65 year old Aussie bloke retires, he loses his identity, he has no words for what he loses because being verbal and thoughtful is not a quality Australian “common culture” values in men – my culture says a “man” cannot be “manly” and “deep thinking” at the same time and it also says that being “manly” is the most important quality for a male to display. So when the average Aussie bloke retires at 65 and shortly afterward feels profoundly empty – he is poorly prepared to grapple with that feeling, to understand it, to talk about it, to find a solution to it.

This table, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows that in the past men died so young this problem of lost identity in late middle age was not much of a problem. Now with our population living longer and longer, any problem an Australian person has as a result of an age related change or challenge, is a problem they will face for ten, twenty, thirty or even forty years, so these kind of problems become incredibly important.

Many Aussie blokes overcome this loss of work/career related identity in creative ways.

Some build a fresh focus on their extended family by helping out their adult children in whatever way they can and by making a big fuss of their grandchildren.

Some find part time work, which they don’t financially require but which allows them to have some structured role which pulls them out of their home and into the wider community with a clear purpose and role for a couple of days a week.

Some make travel and exploration their new role in life, travelling widely and tasting deeply of many different places and peoples.

Some take up one or more volunteer roles, perhaps using old workplace skills in a new context or perhaps volunteering in an area they were always curious about but “never had the time” to explore, such as helping migrants learn English or joining environmental groups.

Each of these solutions, and all the others they come up with, work if the person invests their sense of purpose and meaning in this new role. That is after all, what they lost when they retired – their sense of purpose and meaning.

My culture promotes this kind of shallow identity to males. We do it without awareness that we are making a choice about our identity and about our purpose in life. There are many problems with placing your sense of identity, purpose and meaning in your work role, particular in light of the fact that most of us don’t work for ourselves, our workplace dances to someone else’s tune, which means our identity and our purpose is dancing to someone else’s tune.

The focus of this post is not an in depth analysis of identity in Australia but rather to highlight, using one example, how the increasing life spans of Australians is generating new challenges and making what used to be short term problems into serious long term life challenges.

In the case of work centred identity challenges – the simplest solution would seem to be developing, from early adulthood, a sense of purpose and identity for ourselves which is based in something that will span all the stages of our probable life cycle. There are no certainties about how our life path will unroll before us, almost any identity we invest in could be undercut by events outside our control but some are certain to be taken from us (Such as a work centred identity.) while others have a greater chance of staying viable over all the predictable and unpredictable changes our life might bring.

Aussies are living longer and longer, our way of BEING human needs to develop to engage this new reality.

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