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OPINION: From Captain Tom Moore to the Queen, we should listen more to the elderly

PUBLISHED: 06:30 16 September 2020

James argues that people like the Queen and Captain Tom Moore have been through far worse than most of us in their long lives that we should listen to them more as we live life under the shadow of coronavirus

James argues that people like the Queen and Captain Tom Moore have been through far worse than most of us in their long lives that we should listen to them more as we live life under the shadow of coronavirus

PA Wire/PA Images

Have we listened to the elderly enough during lockdown? James Marston says we should look to them for advice and inspiration

For most of my time as a journalist I have worked in Suffolk and Norfolk, reporting on the whole gamut of regional and local stories – from murders to primary schools, from local politics to the “human interest”.

This experience has coloured and affected my view of the world, as you might expect.

I am suspicious of authority – particularly central government.

I know only too well that the police are not above incompetence and corruption.

Local government attracts people who are more community-minded than you might think.

People and institutions find admitting error extremely difficult.

There are instances of astonishing kindness and altruism – they are more often than not left unreported.

Fear, sex and violence – and any combination thereof – sell.

Simple incompetence is probably more likely than corruption or malice.

There’s as much good news as there is bad – bad is just more newsworthy generally.

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We, by which I mean all of us, are nosey and like gossip.

We remember things that happen in our communities.

I’m getting too old to change but I still like traditional standards of behaviour and courtesy and I believe in increasingly old-fashioned values of civic and national pride, and live and let live.

This week I have been inspired by the story of Joan Rich, the 102-year-old ex-nurse who has been raising money for charity by walking around a park in Felixstowe.

“You really just have to stick at it, like life really.” she said.

Wise words and inspiring stuff and, like Captain Tom and The Queen, I can’t help but think older generations – perhaps particularly what we might call the very elderly – seem to be inspiring and encouraging the rest of us with their attitudes and outlook on life in these strange days.

Yet these very elderly among us are often the ones who have the quietest voice in the melee. The loudest voices are often those of men in their 50s paying lip service to the young, to women, to the dispossessed. It seems to me the over 80s don’t often get much of a say at all.

In recent weeks it has become clearer to me, and I suspect others, that we are going to have to live with coronavirus for some time yet to come. The damage caused to our prosperity, our young, our elderly, our mental health, our way of life, our freedoms, is increasing each time we proscribe varying behaviours on others.

The effects of our reaction to this disease are in danger of being almost as bad as the effects of disease itself. I have probably said this before but I’m wondering if the time isn’t soon coming that we take back control and agency of our own lives, assess our own risks, and make our own decisions alongside quality information and sensible guidance.

I often get letters and emails from the elderly and it seems to me that plenty of them, the very people most at risk from this pandemic, are pretty sure they know what is best for them and wish to make their own choices.

Perhaps it is time we listened to them a little more and asked them what they think instead of assuming we know best. That generation has probably lived through difficult times already and might just be worth listening to.

What do you think? Should we assess our own risks? Are the elderly listened to enough? Who has inspired you? Write to James at james.marston@archant.co.uk


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