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The best years of your life?

July 4, 2018

The best years of your life?

The word ‘old’ can carry a lot of baggage – as though it’s only good to be young and with your life in front of you. This week I have been struck by a couple of articles in the Press: one focussed on what some see as a trend towards people becoming more rude and self-centred in their social interactions. The ‘old’ can apparently be more at fault here than the ‘young’. The second article was to do with the ageing process and how, with the focus on dementia, ill-health and pressure on social services, few people look forward to ‘old age’. The Royal Society for Public Health, for example, has just published a report which lays bare the extent of the problem: many view old age as a period of decline and ordeal, with a third of the public perceiving loneliness as inevitable with declining years.

Growing ‘Old’ and growing grumpy?

With respect to the first concern – increasing rudeness – I can see no defence for this by anyone whatever their age. It may well be that as some retreat into more of a private world, perhaps through choice, mobility issues or even social exclusion that being rude becomes a defence mechanism or a sign of poor social skills. As with much in life, a positive response in the face of rudeness, even apparent aggression, can cause the perpetrator to stop short, think, and change the way they react. For example, I witness passive rudeness nearly every day when I walk into school: the dog walkers plugged into their ‘phones and the early risers rushing off to the train who won’t readily acknowledge me as I pass by. A cheery ‘good morning’ (but loud enough to penetrate the personal music system) usually works wonders and produces a startled but I hope appreciative, response and understanding that common courtesies are worth preserving.

Retiring from full-time work

I have now reached ‘a certain age’ (apparently) and am about to retire from full-time work. (My PA, jokingly of course, refers to my senior rail card as my ‘old man card’!) I do hope that I won’t become short-tempered, touchy or (even more) blinkered in my ‘old age’ – commonly held beliefs amongst some about senior citizens. I rather like the tradition in Japan whereby some men and women, of ‘a certain age’, who excel in the traditional arts and crafts, are designated as ‘living national treasures’. I am not sure that I have too many traditional pastimes to impart on the younger generation (unless croquet and fish keeping count) but I hope I can still share some ‘treasure’.

As 71 year old Janet Street-Porter (JSP) in the I newspaper (Saturday, 30 June) explains,

‘The biggest problem facing society is how to sell getting old in a positive way, especially to the young, who view it with unmitigated dread’.

It seems that all too often we talk about the elderly in terms of ‘less’ – less of everything that seemingly makes life enjoyable. ‘Less good health, less mobility, fewer friends, less money, less memory, less time left on earth’ (Street-Porter). The latter concern, of course, depends largely on your faith position! As for the other worries, I feel like JSP in this: the word ‘old’ carries far too much baggage in our national consciousness. As I near semi-retirement, I am looking for new opportunities and challenges, fresh insights and approaches. No doubt the pace of life will change for me, in keeping with my great age, but if health permits I’d like to think I could still be kept busy into my 80s, even my 90s, like my parents, doing something productive and helpful as I prepare ‘for the life to come’.

Feel free to remind me of this blog (politely, of course) as I enter the unchartered waters of ‘old age’ and encourage me to become a well-regarded ‘national treasure’ – or, at the very least, a local one!

Alastair Reid (Headmaster)

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Ballard School is an independent, private co-educational school in New Milton, Hampshire, providing an outstanding level of education for nursery to GCSE. With small class sizes and proven academic excellence, we strive to nurture the academic potential of all students. Learn more about our academic programmes, pastoral care, facilities and school ethos by visiting our website or by requesting a prospectus here.

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