We have a new member appointed to our town’s Municipal Budget Committee. He’s a piece of work. Last week he showed up to the meeting pumped up on liquid courage, and he told the committee and citizens in attendance what was on his mind. He’s going to shake things up and call people out, get rid of the fat in the budget and save the taxpayers money. Sound good? One of his first proposals was to eliminate all printing costs (a whopping $25) since, as he put it, “It’s 2016 and we don’t print things anymore unless you’re an old, useless person.”
After a moment of incredulous silence, it was pointed out to him that the various committees and boards in town are required by law to post their meetings in public places. Documents like the voter list are required by law to exist in printed form. In fact, before them on the table, was a copy of the budget they were reviewing. Printed on paper. Because it is easier to work with a printed document than trying to scroll back and forth on a device. But maybe I think that because I am old and useless.
During a discussion about how to make police officer salaries more competitive with surrounding towns so we don’t lose so many good officers, our man dismissed the supporting data as “irrelevant” and called a fellow board member an “asshole”.
Like certain other celebrated individuals in the political sphere, he does speak his mind, unfettered by respect, decorum, or an understanding of the facts.
He won himself several reprimands during the course of the meeting for dropping F-bombs. And there were more moments of stunned silence as he displayed his utter lack of understanding of how the law affects the budget. For me, the most telling moment was when he proposed eliminating the Heritage Commission (saving the town a grand total of $600). His justification? “It’s 2016, people. We don’t need history anymore.” I kid you not. Exact quote.
Our vocal advocate for frugality at all cost read a statement at the beginning of the next meeting, at which he grudgingly apologized for his behavior, but went to great length to justify it, waxing righteous and defensive about his tough upbringing, and how he pulled himself up by the bootstraps. He has a thick skin and presumed others wouldn’t be so sensitive about his brutal frankness and honesty. He’s fighting for the taxpayers, and after living here for a whopping ten years he knows everything he needs to know about what’s good for the town and what the taxpayers want.
And besides, he whined, this was an adult meeting, so he naturally assumed that adult language would be no problem.
One hardly knows where to begin.
We live in a culture that worships youth and treats old age like a fatal disease that no one ever wants to admit they have contracted. This culture is obsessed with novelty and innovation. It applauds celebrity and delights in seeing authority figures torn down and humiliated. Impatient, angry, self-righteous and self-obsessed. All flaws of the youth it idolizes.
What use has youth for history? It doesn’t involve them. Rules just get in the way of what they want. And what they want is what everyone should want, and anyone that disagrees is an asshole. Especially old people who try to explain to them why youth doesn’t always know what it is talking about.
Don’t misunderstand me; youth also brings energy, fresh ideas, challenges and courage to a society. We older folks often get set in our ways and need a bit of shaking up. But youth undisciplined, with no respect for the past and those who have lived it, is a forest fire.
Age brings experience. When you have lived and made mistakes and seen bright ideas go wrong, seen what works and what doesn’t, it gives you a measure of wisdom (glaring exceptions acknowledged—they are often those old enough to know better who emulate the worst qualities of youth). The older members of a board or committee tend to know why there are rules, how to work within them, and the unfortunate consequences of ignoring them. Living in a community for many years, especially when your family grew up there, gives you insights into how that community works, the variety of viewpoints and the different kinds of people. You learn (one hopes) how to respectfully disagree, to remain on friendly terms in spite of differences, and to find common ground.
When you know the history, you understand the present. You neither have to reinvent the wheel, nor rediscover fire. Those who fail to remember the past and who do not learn from history get to make the same disastrous mistakes over again.
Looking back at that committee meeting it is clear to me who are the old and who are the useless. They are not the same people. But perhaps our mouthy, yapping, young puppy will mature and understand better how to be an effective member of the community—if he is willing to learn from his mistakes and listen to those older and more experienced.
Old dogs don’t have to learn new tricks; they already know the best ones.