The Unparalleled Experience of Elders
Thursday, 18 January 2007
To match the extreme weather in other parts of the U.S., the temperature here in Portland, Maine, has recently dropped into the single, minus digits that will continue, according to weather.com, for a week or more.
Jack Frost has been painting windows in the manner of Christmas cards, the sound of plastic scrapers on windshields has become ubiquitous in recent days along with the crunch of booted feet on frozen snow.
It’s nice. I like a real winter. It’s the reason I moved to Maine and not Florida last year. Still, when temperatures drop this far, it is nothing to be (only) sneezed at when the furnace stops pumping out heat – as mine did on New Year’s Day.
The young man from the company that maintains my equipment took all of five minutes to get the heat going again and if I choked on the $90 bill, well – it was a holiday. That’s life.
As I sat here at my computer two mornings ago, once again I felt chillier than I should. Sure enough, a check of the thermostat showed a temperature about six degrees lower than I set it and no heat kicking on.
In a couple of hours, the same repairman as on New Year’s Day – let’s call him Tom – arrived. Tom’s a genial kind of guy who got to work fiddling with my boiler and after about 30 minutes determined that a new part was required; he would return with it in 15 or 20 minutes.
Tom removed the old switch, attached the new one, turned things off and on and generally behaved like a furnace repairman for an hour or so to no avail. No heat was forthcoming.
Soon a much older man, having been summoned by Tom, arrived. Let’s call him Joe. In short order, Joe set to work assessing the problem. The questions he asked Tom revealed Joe’s deep knowledge of the minute intricacies of heating equipment gained during his 35-year career.
In the end, the old switch was found to be in good working order once Tom correctly re-attached the wiring at Joe’s direction. The problem of no heat was found elsewhere on the boiler, eventually discovered through Joe’s patient, practiced eye and persistent poking, tapping and testing.
It was a pleasure watching an old pro jockey into submission a recalcitrant machine while showing a tenderfoot how it’s done when the solution isn’t listed in the manual.
Corporate America that is so enamored with the “creativity” of youth forgets there is no substitute for experience that can be gained in no other way than over many years. It’s not just furnace repairmen or electricians or truck drivers – the trades, as it were. It’s all kinds of work.
Old sales people know psychology as well as credentialed academics. Experienced engineers can keep the rookies from unnecessarily repeating mistakes they learned how to avoid the hard way. And there is a reason young physicians work for years under the tutelage of older doctors.
It would be useful to know if corporate bean counters, whose primary cost-cutting tool is ditching old folks, have ever calculated the value of elder workers’ knowledge or the dollar cost when old workers are replaced with inexperienced youth and there is no one left to show the kids how it’s done.
How lucky I am that young Tom was smart enough to call in an elder expert when he needed help. And how even luckier for me that Joe’s employer understands that the value of a 66-year-old who had triple bypass surgery ten weeks ago is undiminished and unparalleled.
When I was working at a big company, we had a big kick off meeting. We were split into teams and had to play a game where we had to 'find the gold.' there were choices along the way of buying food, or water, of reducing the load on our horses, or asking an old guy for advice.
After one team won, we all found out that the only way yo win the game was to ask the old guy for advice. Not many did.
Everyone thought they had it all figured out.
Sometimes these corporate games are just a waste of time, but this one taught me a lesson I've kept with me always.
Ask the old guy for advice.
Posted by: steve garfield | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 05:24 AM
perfect story...especially appreciated the balanced view of what young people can learn from elders. it's what we want to say and the media so often misses: we're ready to make space for the next generations--just acknowledge what we too can bring to the mix.
Posted by: Naomi Dagen Bloom | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 05:53 AM
Amen..and soon they will learn it is unwise to turn corporate America over to other countries. While they are doing the work they are learning the most intricate workings of each business, good or bad. These are smart folks over there, they could use their new knowlege to bring themselves into the high financial positions America is holding now.
Posted by: Florida Frannie | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 05:59 AM
I am glad you are now warm and toasty thanks to the experience of an elder.
Posted by: Chancy | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 06:29 AM
I really liked this story. It's so true. The 'institutional knowledge' that older folks have is irreplaceable.
Posted by: Rhea | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 06:49 AM
This parallels my father's experience years ago, when the young turks at his place of employment, those just out of college, thought they knew so much more than a man who had been doing the job for 30 years. They found out they were not so hot.
Posted by: kenju | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 07:15 AM
A great story, well told, Ronni! I hope you're enjoying your newly found warmth.
Posted by: Claude | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 07:37 AM
LOVE this account, Ronni.
Posted by: Marci | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 09:21 AM
That was perfectly observed. I bet Tom will someday get to the point that Joe has achieved. The only way he'll get there though is time.
God Bless Joe (and you Ronnie for writing about it).
Posted by: Peggy | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 10:52 AM
This was a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it, Ronni. Certainly I think we all can relate to many, many points in it.
In fact, not long ago I had a similar experience when my car began making a truly awful noise. I took it in and the young mechanics began taking things off (and, of course, putting new things on) all went without result. The noise remained unchanged. Finally the shop foreman, who must have been a carbon copy of your older boiler repairman, came over and began to listen intently. Suddenly, and I mean just like that, he gave the alternator(!) a very sharp whack with a rubber hammer. Just as suddenly the noise was gone!
All those young pups were incredulous. They asked, "How did you even know the noise was coming from the alternator?" It was certainly a mystery to all of us. And how indeed could he have known that even if it were the alternator that it would respond to his sharp blow with the hammer? That was yet another one.
He answered simply and modestly, "You know I had a Jeep with a noise like that when I was in the army in Germany many years ago. For some reason this would always work just fine."
Anyway simple as that the problem was resolved! And haven't we all observed that experience is so much more relevant day-to-day in real life decision making than even the very best training ever could be? Isn't that precisely the weakness in the dreary plans to get rid of all of us oldsters? To get rid of us before our time? The folks who are doing this are trading a known, that is they are trading hard-won experience, to trust in the efficacy of what? ...in their training programs? Ah me, I guess I'm a skeptic. This isn't always the best swap. At least, that is what says my own experience. So maybe they'll learn? I hope so. Until then they'll be putting lots of good people out to pasture unnecessarily. And as you said, at what cost?
I have to say that reading your blog is a true present in my life, Ronni. So for me this has turned out to be something of a mixed bag, I guess. It's a funny world.
Posted by: Perry | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 11:10 AM
Wonderful, perfect story! That second-to-last paragraph sums it up for my husband's place of work, like so many that have been taken over by the bean counters. You are lucky to have found "Tom" and "Joe". Keep warm, Ronni!
Posted by: marja-leena | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 11:50 AM
An excellent example of why everyone has a place in this grand scheme of things. Lucky for you the younger worker had the good sense and lack of hubris to call the experienced older man. Here in the city they would have looked at it for ten minutes and then told you that had to sell you a new heater!!
Posted by: Tabor | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 12:34 PM
Excellent anecdote!!! It brought to mind a sign has been hanging in a favorite bar/restaurant ever since before I was old enough to go there. It reads: Old Age and Treachery Will Always Overcome Youth and Skill. I thought it funny in my 20s; now as an elder I'm beginning to understand it. We elders still have valuable contributions to make if the young and corporate America will let us. And I'm glad you're warm again, Ronni!!!
Posted by: Kay Dennison | Thursday, 18 January 2007 at 01:57 PM
The tales I could tell about my experiences with repair men. I have,unfortunately, had more bad ones than good. Just when I get a good one they become too busy with bigger jobs and move out of my life. That has been the hardest part of being a widowed homeowner. I have friends who moved into apartments just to avoid the hassle. You were fortunate, Ronni, that Tom called Joe. By the way, has anyone had to deal with computer techies that do not pay attention to your problem and give the wrong answer? It's usually some guy in India whose grasp of the English language leaves something to be desired.
Posted by: Darlene | Friday, 19 January 2007 at 06:03 AM
I wish I could get my heating repaired for the equivalent of $90 on a holiday!
Posted by: ian | Saturday, 20 January 2007 at 03:19 AM
I'm reading this on Jan. 22, 2007, and it reminds me of a disturbing article I read today in the Wall Street Journal about the "extra costs" of keeping retirees on the job. Great article.
Posted by: Susie J | Monday, 22 January 2007 at 07:07 PM
It is a paradoz that although some view old people as less competent, others treasure the knowledge of late lifers and take advantage of it. I am constantly advising people who have graduated from conventional jobs into "retirement" to establish themselves as consultants. I did that and it has been a huge and continuing success.
Posted by: Pete Lustig | Thursday, 01 February 2007 at 06:56 AM