The dangers of gerontocracy – the advantages of retirement.

We all say things we shouldn’t and live to regret it. Many young people will have to live with their social media posts for decades to come (like digital tattoos). But it’s seldom recognised that older people are also more prone to making gaffes which can damage their reputation and that of those they represent. Such is the case with Susan Hussey.

Listening to Dotun Adebayo, a man of Nigerian origin who is in his mid-sixties, talk on the radio about the questioning of Ngozi Fulani, made me think. What is it like to be on the wrong side of the prejudice for  decades, as he has , as Ngozi has? Is passive acceptance of prejudice any more acceptable than the prejudice itself?

The Royal Family is a gerontocracy where power is held by a group of people who are over 70. Because both the late Queen and her husband lived and worked well into their nineties, it is “normal” for the Family to be represented by people both senior in status and years.

But this is not normal in society and it means that we get awkward moments as we did yesterday. That is because it is very hard, when you have been doing a job for 60 years, as Susan Hussey has, to evolve your views to meet a society that has radically changed. But the Royal Family are expected to set the tone of our national discourse – we live in a progressive culture which aspires to better. The past is no excuse.

What older people say is often awkward and to the minds of younger generations – just plain wrong. Society needs to move on and has little patience, within five hours of her gaffe, Susan Hussey had lost her job.

But as Jenny Yoe says on linked in, Susan Hussey’s interrogation begs questions about our capacity to see both sides…

 tolerance is not a one way concept – in a world where much more inclusion is needed, both questioners and questionees can do more to help educate others and help them understand how to navigate this wonderfully diverse world

Most of us wince when we hear old people being awkward, Alf Garnett is not funny any more. We need to get behind the awkwardness and understand the intent. It is rarely malevolent.

One of the many wonders of the late Queen’s reign was that she so rarely got conversations wrong – either in what she said or how she said it. She set standards but it is unreasonable to suppose that all others will follow them. Her mother, husband and sons have all had their moments.

We test the Royal Family almost daily, we write about their weaknesses but rarely recognise their vulnerabilities. Unsurprisingly, many of the younger royals seem reluctant to carry on the function of their elders.

So it worries me that the Royal Family is under-represented by people of working age and will increasingly be reliant on those whose capacity to get it right (in the terms of younger people) diminishes.

We are all tolerant of children but less so of those who are at the other extreme of life. I hope we will be kind to Susan Hussy and not harass her. We would not give her job to a child and I do not think she should have been asked to do the job she was doing yesterday.

Retirement has within its name, a withdrawal from the controversy of public life and it should be encouraged. Gerontocracies abound the world over , but as we pass into our later years, there is a time to recognise that we may no longer be speaking for the people we serve. Gerontocracies are characterised by inflexibility and often the wilful abuse of power, they are not good for Government.

Jenny Yeo is right, tolerance is needed. But I would add that there is a point in life – where discretion is the better part of valour. The diversity which Jenny celebrates , needs to extend to our Royal Family and you wonder why 83 year olds are doing work of this kind.

But if not Susan Hussey – who?

Jenny Yoe’s post

This is a very wonderful post and I include it in full here – you can read the comments from this link.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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1 Response to The dangers of gerontocracy – the advantages of retirement.

  1. Tony Watts says:

    It’s a really tricky one this. On the one hand, many older people feel left behind by the swift and radical societal changes over their lifetimes and aren’t at all sure how to word what might be quite well-meaning questions but which show a disconnect to modern discourse. The language around diversity has also changed (and keeps changing), sometimes making it something of a minefield.

    Conversely, if the Royal Family are going to be “represented” on occasions like this, a modicum of diversity training would avert the potential pitfalls.

    Having written a lot around D&I in the last few years, I’d simply echo the remarks of many people I’ve interviewed: let’s talk about this. Having grown up conversations can address the sensitivities and build bridges.

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