One of the advantages of staying in the workforce lies in connection, the way that work connects you with the current, with people, with ideas. This can sometimes be difficult. It's hard to believe, but I have been in the workforce for fifty years. That may be the flick of an eye-lid in historical terms, but it is a long time at a personal level.
People assume that the older worker is stuck in the past, that they are less flexible, less able to adjust, victim of now past ideas. This can happen, but the reality is a little different. The real problem is that when you have been around for a long time you have seen the pattern of changing fads and fashions, each proclaimed as a revolution, a challenge that will improve the way we do things.
Some older workers do become stuck in particular times and resist change. Others, more dangerously, look at the current orthodoxy and say this will not work, is not working, we have become stuck, change is required. Drawing from their experience, they can become revolutionaries, a new generation of change agents. They do not want to return to the past, but to use the past to affect the future.
Fairly obviously, I place myself in this group. But to identify the required changes and then agitate to bring them about, you must be connected. You have to know how things work or don't work now, what the systems are, what are the underlying assumptions, what are the defined relationships within the systems currently in place. If you don't know this, then you are always responding to symptoms.
Identification of the elements involved requires you to ask what is, not what should be. If you don't understand what is, you can't understand what should be done. You also have to understand the limits on action. There is no point in pushing for something if it's so far outside scope to be impossible in the short term.
The real revolutionaries among us are those who say damn this, I will stand outside and try to change the whole system. I admire them even when I disagree with them, they are the ones who bring about big changes, but I'm more concerned with making what we have work better. Certainly I argue for bigger changes, but in a day to day sense I'm more concerned with incremental change, changes at the margin that might make things better. I can measure that.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a woman on the New England Tablelands. Living out of town, she had read a column, part of a series, on the history of Armidale's museums, in the dentist's surgery. I really laughed. How do you respond to being read in a dentists's surgery, that repository of bedraggled magazines and papers? It was a first!
Her comment was a simple one. Why wasn't the Armidale Folk Museum better signposted? It's a fair point. I forwarded her email to a couple of Armidale Dumaresq councilors saying what about it? There may or may not be a change in signage, but if there is it will be due to my correspondent.
This is a second example of connection, the connection that comes through active participation, in my case through writing. Really, my writing is the equivalent of a second job if measured by the time involved. It gives me connection to ideas, makes me think. I'm a naturally curious person, so I find the whole process very interesting.
William Tydd Taylor is a case in point. My current History Revisited series in the Armidale Express is loosely focused on some of the early European settlers in Northern NSW. Taylor and wife Margaretta Lucy Lind arrived in the colony in March 1840 and almost immediately embarked on the steam packet 'William the Fourth" for Port Macquarie where Taylor's cousin, Archibald Clunes Innes had his headquarters. Later that year, he took up a Tablelands run, Terrible Valley now known as Terrible Vale, in partnership with Joseph Middleton.
I already knew quite a bit about Innes and the early days of Port Macquarie partly through Annabella Boswell whose diaries provide an almost Jane Austin style picture of life at Lake Innes. I also knew about Innes' various connections, although I had not known that William Taylor was a cousin. However, I had no idea that Taylor's mother was Harriet Taylor Mill, the wife of John Stuart Mill.
Harriet Taylor and Mill initially became involved through shared intellectual interests, an involvement that deepened into something more intense although they did not marry until after husband John Taylor's death.
So my journey had taken me from my starting point, William Tydd Taylor and the foundation of Terrible Vale Station, back to a famous economist and philosopher and his wife, one of the noted feminists of the nineteenth century. Further, both William Tayor and wife Margaretta Lind seem to have been children of the 18th century Scottish Enlightenment.Connections indeed!
If writing gives me connection with ideas and indeed people through the interactions generated from the blogs and columns, it does not provide the type of daily personal interactions that you find in a working environment. There you have to respond in real time to the myriad small interactions connected with the daily work flow.
I have spent quite a lot of time over the last two decades working alone from a home office, something I have written about in both a personal and professional sense. This can become alienating, cutting you off to some degree from life, reducing stimulation and indeed the need to accommodate others. You need to make a special effort to get out and sometimes one just doesn't want to do so.
I really have been enjoying the working interactions once again. However, I am struggling a little to re-establish the balance between work, writing and personal life. I don't object to the challenge, but I do find the need to pace myself a little more, to try to set priorities. There in lies the rub - I do like my meanders down the by-ways of life and history!