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Oldcodgerus Doug – the new species

Originally published on the Age Concern blog.

Life has a habit of throwing up nice surprises.

Kids, grandkids, work opportunities – I’ve always counted myself lucky for what’s come may way, whether expected or out of the blue.

And so, a few weeks back I was counting my lucky stars once again when I found myself trussed up in a tuxedo and sharing dinner with 800 people, nervously awaiting the results of the of the Senior New Zealander of the Year award.

I was humbled to be there because the other finalists were outstanding.

Winning the title was a surprise, a pleasure and a great privilege.

To represent the older community, no matter how you define it, is an intense honour.

Kim Hill, to whom I must thank for her communication opportunities, describes me as coming from the dark side of 80. I’m finding 83 is not too bad though, come on in. There’s still stuff we can do.

There are now so many of us of the 65 plus community, close to 800,000, each with their own personal stories, that a single voice can be drowned out.

My role is to talk and write, to broaden understanding across generations, using humour as a facilitating weapon of communication.

I deployed this weapon in my acceptance speech.

Describing myself as an ‘old codger’ got an uncomfortably big laugh from all the youngsters.

Warning the audience that they were all ageing as I spoke, and that they should ignore the older generation at their peril – because we can be troublesome as they well know – got even more applause.

That’s right – ignore us at your peril!

Immediately after the awards I received lots of congratulations and requests for selfies. To my surprise there were repeated engagements with younger attendees, who enjoyed both the laughter and the positive attitude about living longer.

During the evening we heard the various stories behind the other candidates’ awards. It was apparent there is a dazzling array of new talents with innovations, ideas, interventions, technologies, social engineering, and other wondrous activities that have been both created and implemented. For me this was like opening a magic box of tricks, treasures, and visions of the future.

A stand-out was Jazz Thornton, a young mental health advocate who attempted suicide on different occasions as a teenager. To get her positive mental health message across she trained in filmmaking. Her short film Dear Suicidal Me had more than 80 million views in its first 48 hours after release.

Another was Ranjna Patel. Ranjna was asked by Counties Manukau police to see if she could assist dealing with the South Auckland Asian community domestic violence. She turned the standard approach upside down, removing the offending men from their homes, providing them with emergency accommodation, counselling and behaviour therapy, while providing support for the family at home. A recent Massey University longitudinal study looked at the project, the terrible situations usually marked by repeat offending, and found over 60% of them had not reoffended in 5 years, a dazzling success story.

These were just two of many stories. It was a supermarket of creative riches.

The older community can only gain by supporting these miracles of local creativity. It is not handwringing but getting hands deep into problems to help.

Maybe for some I was representative of a new species, Oldcodgerus Doug.

But the multiple responses since the awards have been both generous and friendly. The experience sends me a message of our need to accelerate cross generational dialogue, and to recognise many older people also have creative thoughts and positive attitudes.

I’m on a mission to support the older community as much as I can, while at the same time admiring in public the positive inventions and initiatives which will shape our future, old and young.

It just so happens that my new book Ageing Well: how to navigate a life’s journey in your later years is about to hit the shelves.

My intention is to spread the word: The more we know the better we can cope. I hope it also presents further evidence for the older community, while facing their individual versions of getting older, that they have great capacity to assess, adapt, and eventually accept how things are.

We’re lucky to be old and wise. My experience in Auckland shows the younger generations admire us for it.

We should make the most of it.

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