No Charity for Old Men

1130 words

I once spoke to a lady who wanted to establish a charity to care for abandoned elephants in Australia. She had two problems. First, all the elephants in Australia belong to zoos and circuses. Second, there are already a great many animal charities and zoos which would fight each other for the privilege of caring for an elephant if ever there was the possibility that one could be obtained. Elephants are such popular animals, these charities know that if they can secure one, their membership will soar and donations will flood into their fundraising accounts.

Children are almost as popular as elephants. While there are many genuine children’s charities, I’ve noticed the kind of people who establish charities to give themselves a job almost always use children as the beneficiaries. Women’s charities are also quite popular, although they don’t seem to attract the big donations that children’s charities do. Charities for the aged are not so popular. Charities for aged men almost don’t exist.

The only charity for old men I can think of is the ‘Men’s Shed’ movement. This is basically an Australian effort to provide suburban workshops for old men to tinker about in, doing carpentry or metalwork projects for the community. I guess it helps alleviate loneliness and depression, gives the old men something productive to do. For funding, member organizations are encouraged to apply for government grants and conduct fundraising activities. So, even though they can accept tax deductible gifts they do not expect to receive much by way of public donation.

If you are an able-bodied man, you have many advantages in life. Enjoy them while they last. If you fall prey to drugs or gambling the public will consider it to be your own fault. Even if you avoid these traps, there is no avoiding age. When your mind becomes feeble and your body weak there will be little sympathy for you.

If you relied on your strength and size to intimidate people into giving in to your demands, you will look ridiculous trying those tactics in your 70s. Good looks and charm? Your good looks will be gone, your charms will be ignored. Do you actively seek out the company of old men? I doubt it. They are often boring because of their self focus and tendency to live in the past. They are sometimes violent, usually stingy.

Is there any hope? In my opinion, there are four things a man needs to acquire by the time he retires: wealth, curiosity, wisdom and love.

If you don’t achieve financial independence by the time your productive life ends, your final years will be miserable and death will be welcome. Well, it might not be as bad as that, most Western countries offer some kind of age pension and health care. The pension is enough for food and shelter, and the health care will prolong your life, but it is a hard way to live. It is very hard to live at a lower standard of living than we are used to. As your health problems mount, the limitations of free healthcare services become evident.

Having excess cash to selectively dispense gifts and tips would surely not reduce your popularity among your grandchildren or nephews.

Wealthy old men can afford to make their final years comfortable but they also attract gold diggers, scammers and legacy hunters. This is why you cannot rely on wealth alone.

The longer your past is, the more comforting it is to live in it. By the time we reach old age we have seen much and solved many problems. Most of what we see now is just a variation of what went on when we were young. It doesn’t interest us any more, and we couldn’t do much about it if it did.
The music that used to annoy your parents is now mainstream. But you can’t bear to listen to the rubbish that gets recorded now. It’s not even music any more, really. Instead of exploring the new, and picking the strands that interest us and making them our own, we reject it totally and return to the music of our glory days, like a dog returning to an old bone.

Our world starts to shrink as our physical abilities decline. First, you can’t travel overseas because you might have a seizure, so your world becomes the region you live in. Then you lose your car, so the world is your town. Next your legs go bad so the world is your house. Towards the end you are confined to bed and the world is your room. As hearing and eye sight go you lose access to books, film and internet. As our world gets smaller, so does our mind.

The few people I’ve known who have been able to retain their youthful curiosity were still producing value many years after most people would have been retired. I’m sure it’s because of this they were able to retain their social status, immune to the depression that often besets old men.

I cannot give you simple advice on how to remain curious into your dotage. Choosing not to retire from the work you are passionate about is part of the solution. However I have seen that this doesn’t work for everyone who has done it. For now, the best advice I can think of is to be conscious of your self- limiting beliefs. Check yourself when your internal voice tells you you’re too old. That internal voice is not always wise.

Wisdom comes from experience. Some old men are wise, many are foolish. Wisdom will save you from making bad choices. It will save you from being angry at other people’s stupidity. It saves you from arguing with people who will not change their minds. So many benefits. Most importantly, it reduces our reliance on knowledge.

I’ve been very lucky to have met a few special people who were much younger but much wiser than I was. I wish I knew how they came by such wisdom at a young age. Apart from actual experience, I have been able to increase my own wisdom by reading the ancient philosophers and religious texts. I have also found contemplation to be helpful. Even so, I consider myself to be a wise fool, at best.

No man is an island. We need to establish loving relationships with our family and the community so they will look after our interests when we are unable to do so ourselves.

We are more likely to be loved if we love others.

Prepare yourself for old age. Be aware of behaviors that make you obnoxious to others and try to change them before they become habits.

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