The onset of 'relevance deprivation syndrome'

By Carrie Cox
Updated November 6 2012 - 12:21am, first published June 11 2010 - 1:16am
The onset of 'relevance deprivation syndrome'
The onset of 'relevance deprivation syndrome'

There's no mistaking which moment it was that precipitated my father's retreat from wider society.It was the moment he was told that his services were "no longer required". The company he worked for was "consolidating" its sales force, "shifting its focus" and "targeting new profit streams".In a parallel dimension, they call it sacking the old buggers and hiring young guns.Dad thought about suing them. He considered, briefly, mounting a case for unfair dismissal. But it all seemed too hard and when you've effectively been told that you're old and tired, well, that description can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy.It wasn't as though my father hadn't himself been contemplating early retirement. It wasn't as though he needed the cash. But what really hurt was suddenly appearing rather … irrelevant.Former Australian politician Gareth Evans coined the term "relevance deprivation syndrome" after his retirement, lamenting the sudden feeling of social impotence that confronted him when he was no longer privy to the inner workings of Parliament. He reportedly hated watching and reading political news stories, knowing that he'd played no role in their execution.Apparently it's a syndrome common among retired politicians (and might explain why Peter Costello and Paul Keating still feel the need to toss about their opinions like peanut shells in a saloon bar), but it's certainly not unique to politics, nor even to humans.My mother has a 14-year-old border collie who has permanent residence on her back doorstep. Jess is old and she is tired, but there is no disputing her place within the home. Last week my brother and his girlfriend came to temporarily (Ha! We'll see) board at Mum's house, bringing with them their newest acquisition - a four-month-old Shitzu pup complete with its own fashion line.This snow-white ball of prancing fluff leaps about the house like Paris Hilton in a bar, trying on new cutesy poses for size and scurrying into every nook and cranny, possibly looking for spare intellect. My children are delighted with this dog, called - I kid you not - Biscuit, all but forgetting about the other canine occupant of the home whom they used to love so dearly."Jess will need counselling after this," I said to Mum. "She feels completely irrelevant."Indeed she does look quite depressed (despite my attempts to compensate for everyone else's fickleness) and the simple fact is she may never get past this. Jess has glimpsed the future and seen that one day soon it will be dominated by dogs that fit inside handbags. The back doorstep will be empty.Of course, there are ways to make ourselves continue to feel relevant in life, even as our footprints grow smaller. We can take on charitable causes; give something back to the community and hope that happy feelings follow. We can, like my father-in-law, continue returning to our old haunts - the tennis club, the cadet unit - and enjoy the satisfaction of being perennially recognised.We can reinvent ourselves completely; even embrace anonymity and take off around the world seeking new adventures. A one-way ticket to Delusion, please!Or we can simply remind the people around us that a bit of extra attention wouldn't hurt. Some extra long pats. A tummy tickle. A conversation beyond the weather. A surprise lunch invitation. At the very least, a careful, loving look at the person, the dog, whatever, that you once were … and always will be.

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