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Eldership: the Last Opportunity

By Bruce Christensen
Posted: 08/30/2022

Men's Time Topic Discussion for Tuesday, September 6 at 9:30am Pacific time.


A Reassessment of the role of elders in Society

By John Bing - From his newsletter

Thanks to Village Member Monica Hubbard for suggesting this article.


Warning: expect a highly generalized perspective.


The elder members of traditional societies were valued for their knowledge and wisdom. Those who had gathered and hunted the longest were thought to best know the ways of plants and animals. Those who longer knew the “Gods,” were expected to better handle prayer.


Doubtless, this was true in part. However, it may not have been the whole story.


I suggest that elders in such societies played a further critical role in the life of their communities. And understanding how might cause us to reconsider the potential value in this century of the men and women who are living healthy productive lives well into their 80s and 90s to their societies


I suggest that the “old” are essential to all societies—-not just as grandparents and actors in cranky codger films. And not just for the stories they can tell, or the fishing spots they know.


They are a source of creativity and innovation. They provide essential guidance to their societies.


We live in communities where positions of authority are held by a “middle group.” They represent, on the whole, those who have benefitted from the social order, from the structures of custom and law that allocate roles and determine rewards. They are an elite, a privileged class, and should not be expected to challenge the norms and rules that facilitated their “rise.” And they may not have seen the failures and suffering that were an essential part of the triumphs and successes of the past, and well understood by preceding generations.


Furthermore, when challenged, they are likely to use established approaches to problems that have not only changed but were never met satisfactorily by these solutions in the first place. 


And they will be hesitant to hear the voices of the “rising” generations, the younger men and women more attuned to the risks and possibilities of a changing world.


A senior generation, essentially having put aside ambition and the economic and social interests that structured their lives, are able to reinforce these new voices. The old can listen to the young in ways that established leaders, for many reasons, cannot.


They can ally with each rising generation and provide them with the resources and encouragement to be reckless, as well as cautious. They can patronize new forms of art and music and be the source of many truly imaginative ideas. 


Increasing numbers of men and women are retiring early and living healthy lives into their nineties, with opportunities for further learning and with the personal resources to spend well beyond their own material needs.


If only more of us, in our “golden” years, would become aware of the nature and extent of the role we could play in the years ahead.



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