Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Grey Power

grey power

“Idle hands are the devil’s tools…” – Geoff Chaucer (more or less)

There’s been a lot of talk about Seniors in Canada over the last few weeks. This came after the government announced it was considering changes to the way our pension system works.

Nobody knows what those changes might be yet. Maybe the retirement age will rise from 65 to 67. Maybe payments or benefit packages will be reduced. We just don’t know.

But that hasn’t stopped calls for immediate panic and the usual pictures being drawn of Seniors as the helpless victims of cold and insensitive politicians.

Now, a lot of this doesn’t directly concern me because I’m in a profession where you don’t retire. Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Screenplay was 75 years old. This year Christopher Plummer, now 83, is nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

And if 40 is the new 30, then it would seem the new 60 arrives somewhere around age 80.

I’m not saying that gives the government the right to reduce its obligations to those who’ve spent a lifetime paying taxes. I’m just saying that more of us seem fully functional a whole lot longer.

Food for thought when you’re part of an industry that declares you virtually out of fashion and unemployable at 50 (35 if you’re an actress).

And yet, despite all that, most of us just keep going, often doing better work in our later years than we’ve ever done before.

So you begin to wonder if that isn’t true of other people as well.

There’s also a toughness and resiliency to Seniors that belies the “victim” label so many seem eager to apply. And I’ve never seen that as clearly as I did at a meeting I attended last night.

old duffers

I live near what was for decades the busiest golf course in Canada. The city has now grown around it and it remains both an ecological and recreational jewel.

But the place has fallen on hard times of late. In addition to an economic downturn, there’s a lot of competition from more modern courses, some designed by icons of the game.

And that has local developers and a cash strapped city looking at a solution that could solve all of their needs.

Now, the fate of this place also does not directly concern me. I quit playing golf at the age most men take up the game. Back then I said I quit because I already had enough anger in my life.

These days when people ask why I don’t play, I tell them it’s because I’m heterosexual. The line elicits derision from the guys and an appreciative smirk from their wives.

So a story in the local paper that the city was considering closing the course as well as its money losing restaurant and banquet facilities shouldn’t have aroused my interest. But it did.

Something about the list of ongoing massive losses seemed way out of whack. My talents may be few, but they include a keen nose for bullshit.

So I went to the public meeting on the matter where I witnessed the truly inspiring power of the Canadian Senior.

The mayor and council were arrayed at the front of a school gym packed with golfers, shiny suited lawyers with their developer clients and enough Seniors to imply there was a half price buffet.

The politicians spoke first, providing spread sheets, financial statements and internal studies that proved they’d done everything humanly possible to staunch the bleeding. But their efforts had been for naught. There was no hope of recovery.

The shiny suited lawyers nodded in professional sympathy. The developers hovered like hungry wolves and tried not to publicly lick their chops.

I had to agree with the politicians. I’ve seen my share of cooked film budgets and the city documents sure didn’t fall into that category.

The floor was opened to input from we the public and the golfers sprinted to the microphones, passionately advocating for “the good of the game”, “civic pride” and even reminded the council to “think of the children”.

Then the first of the Seniors shuffled up, unfolding a thick sheaf of papers. He’d been an accountant and over the next five minutes, in a soft spoken voice, he tore the carefully constructed spreadsheets to pieces revealing all their hidden concoction.

He was followed by a retired marketing executive with an equally thick document detailing the city’s abject failure at selling the benefits of playing the local course.

They began a parade of long retired management consultants, former golf course owners and others, little by little revealing massive mismanagement and what appeared to be a carefully orchestrated campaign to slowly strangle a once thriving business so its death would not be mourned by most of the community.

It reminded me a lot of how the government has overseen the last 20 years of the Canadian film industry.

When a woman reached the microphone with a file folder she’d culled in a week from 45 years of newspaper archives related to the course, I suddenly realized what I was witnessing.

These people had time on their hands. Lots of it. But they were still as bright, as perceptive and as productive as they’d been during their working lives. So they had used that time and those skills figuring out what was really going on.

They were masters of Google. Knew all about Groupon. Lived on the cutting edges of social media. And they piled document on document in front of the mayor and his council that simply couldn’t be ignored.

As the politicians sagged, the developers slunk off to their BMWs and the lawyers and their suits seemed to lose their glister. This wasn’t going the way any of them had planned or expected.

I had to leave before the slow clap of appreciation began, but you could feel it coming. And as I drove home I considered what I had witnessed.

Maybe we turn people out to pasture well before some of them are ready to go and maybe the decision of when you throw in the towel and apply for the government payout should be your decision and yours alone, not driven by a parliamentary edict.

Maybe we also need to stop evaluating people based on the weaknesses that unavoidably come with age and start figuring out how to access the strengths and wisdom that remain.

But mostly I took comfort in the realization that whatever our government decides to do, it will face the toughest scrutiny from the people most effected. And they are nowhere near the powerless, shrinking violets some would have us believe they are.

These folks have a life’s worth of experience and they’ve got a whole lot of free time in which to now use it.

If idle hands are the Devil’s tools, I really don’t want to be the guy pissing them off.


Sparky said...

k, you sounded almost like Greg Clark right here :)

Barry Kiefl said...

I find it interesting that none of the media I read have pointed out that it was only in the late 1960's that eligibility for OAS was lowered to 65 from 70:

rick mcginnis said...

I'm trying to imagine which city-owned course you're talking about. It's not Scarlett Woods - I grew up next to it, and I don't know of any banquet facilities. Is it Humber Valley or Don Valley?