Monday, June 14, 2010


This is the kind of thing I'd usually post on my Bears Noting blog. But I'm putting it here instead because, well, because here seems the right place for it. Don't ask me to explain that. Also, please disregard the note on my May 20th posting; that was then, this is now.

    In our lives we go through a variety of changes. Some of these are socially defined, and are known to sociologists as “Rites of Passage.”

    Today, every one of them involves paper work. Lots of it.

    It hasn’t always been that way, but it is now. And increasingly, we are know, not by name, but by the number that is assigned to our paper work. 

    Birth and death are the two universal events. Normally in Canada, you don’t leave hospital until someone has filled in papers for your birth certificate. When you die, you cannot be buried, cremated (or whatever) unless there’s a Burial Permit (which is issued only after the more extensive paper work is done).

    In between — perhaps Drivers Licence, High School Diploma, Trade Certification, University Degree. If you get married, a marriage Licence and Certificate. If you have children, their Birth Certificates. All involve paper work.

    And on the farm, there is paper work involved with the transfer of farm ownership. Back in the 1980s, when I was reporting agricultural developments on radio and in print, intergenerational farm transfer was complex. It needed very careful consideration.  I don’t expect it has become any less complex. If anything, there are probably more things to consider — and more paper work.

    What got me thinking about this is the fact that I’m busy filling in paper work. Late this summer, I will turn 65. That, somehow, doesn’t seem right. I don’t actually feel that old. I don’t think of myself as being that old. I’m 64 going on 46, maybe. But my Birth Certificate tells me I’m going to be 65. In this case, the paper work doesn’t lie.

    According to my long-time friend and colleague, Ralph Milton, 65 is the “age of certifiable decrepitude.” Supposedly, you’re old and worn out.

    That, of course, was not true in Ralph’s case. Nor is it true in the lives of many others. In fact, in my years of work with “seniors,” I saw that many seemed busier in “retirement” than they had been during their “working lives.”

    But turning 65 means paper work — for government pensions, or private pensions, or both, that might just wear me out. I won’t get my money until the paper work is done. Even if the money is sitting in some account, somewhere, with my name and number on it. So I’m doing paper work.

    And even after retirement, I’ll be participating in the economy and community. I’ll have an income. I’ll be buying things. I’ll be with my wife and family. I will continue writing. I’ll continue to serve on a variety of ethics committees, in our community and university.  I’m already facing health challenges, but they haven’t stopped me, though I do need medications. And all of those will require some sort of paper work.

    And I hope the economy in which I live will continue to have a place for, and honour the hopes, needs and contributions of,  young and old, male and female, rich and poor, highly-educated and less-educated. That it will be, simply, a Moral Economy.


This originally appeared, in a slightly different from, as an Op-Ed column in The Western Producer, last month. It's my latest contribution to our "Moral Economy" series.


Natalie said...

Yes I am often mindful of a moral economy. Hmmm.... wishing you and your number much happiness together.

Tattieweasle said...

I find paper work horrifying and the amounts of paper in my home quite terrifying. Paper work brings with it a need for order and order is rarely flexible perhaps Government could do with a bit less bureaucracy and paperwork and a bit more flexibility...but I fear there are too mnay of us!

The Blog Fodder said...

Paperwork is a great job creator and you ain't seen nothin' til you have been here in Ukraine for a while.

I like the term Moral Economy, too. Better than things like triple bottom line and such.

Can you believe there is a school of thought that any manager who considers anything but the ROI for the investors should be sued? Concern for customer, worker, or society is not part of his job.

French Fancy... said...

I was 52 this year and inside I feel about 30 - and I think because of not having kids I don't have many of the lines and wrinkles that I see on so many of my contemporaries (or perhaps I'm just kidding myself).

I saw a table tennis championship on the news the other day - it was for seniors and the world champion is 100 years old - so that made me feel a bit more optimistic.

Keep filling in the forms, you lovely bear.

Rob-bear said...

®Natsy: Thanks.

®Tattie: My paper sits in a pile, where it is quietly reproducing (I think).

®BF: The bottom line about the bottom line is that the bottom line isn't necessarily the bottom line.

A corporation's only goal is to make a profit for its investors. I've been told that often enough that I understand it. Likewise, the notion of suing managers who don't focus solely on ROI. Not that I agree.

®Julie: Maybe there is a future for me. In table tennis! (Not in forms!!!)

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Absolutely SUPERB, Rob!! I LOVE this! You are such an extraordinary writer...and this is a powerful Op-Ed! So tragic the way our lives are so defined by paper at critical junctures...but yes, you are right...they are!! Excellent observations...and I am with the march toward more standardization and modernity, I hope and pray we do not lose our moral compass. Big hugs to my wonderful friend, Janine

Rob-bear said...

®Janine: Thanks. The ideas just came to me while I was doing the work, so I thought I would give them a voice. Appreciate your offerings, as a truly superb writer.