Elder Power

“Don’t forget me,” my Amish great-aunt said in her soft voice as we parted ways following my beloved grandmother’s funeral in America.

“I hate old people!” a 22-year old Korean girl said, as she flopped down into a chair in my office in Seoul.

We, in modern societies, have largely forgotten our elders.  And we’re suffering to the point of collapse as a result.  We’ve broken a pattern that carried us through the ages, one of intergenerational mentoring and sharing of lives, and we are without an anchor, without a guide, bumping our way in the dark.  We’ve developed a variety of methods for housing and taking care of our elders, but we’ve marginalized them, and rendered them useless.  We’re beginning to realize what we’ve lost, and to reclaim it — them — hopefully, before it’s too late.

There are signs.  The Elders (http://www.theelders.org) are a group of world leaders and social activists who have formed to offer guidance on a global scale.  The 13 Indigenous Grandmothers (http://www.grandmotherscouncil.com) travel the world to say prayers and bring a message of hope, to encourage people to value anew the earth and indigenous ways. Earth Elders (http://earthelders.org) form local groups for the purpose of building sustainable communities.  The Elder Wisdom Circle (http://www.elderwisdomcircle.org) has more than 600 senior members who offer advice via an online network.  A precursor to all of these, the Raging Grannies (http://www.raginggrannies.com) formed in the mid-1980s as an activist group.

Highlighting the power of elders in a recent op-ed column in the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/NYT-Elders), David Brooks calls upon elders to lead the way for all of us.  He tells us that people report being happier in later life than in middle years, that the brain actually functions better in some ways and compensates for aging, that gender roles begin to merge as women become more assertive and men more emotionally sensitive, and that generativity — passing along one’s knowledge and skills to younger generations — is a primary goal.  Psychologists no longer view this as a period of decline but as a viable developmental phase.

With disaster all around us, from the recent economic turmoil to terrorism, wars, political crises, environmental concerns, pandemics, and more, we can no longer afford to buy into a “youth culture” model that suggests change comes about only as initiative from the young and upcoming generation.  We must also remember and rely once more on the wisdom of those who have lived many years with a wealth of experience and perspective to show for it.  We must call upon our elders to lead the way — and they must be willing to accept the call.

Eldering…and being Eldered.  No, the word “elder” has not yet become a verb, but perhaps it should.

And I want to say to my great-aunt, now dead for some years, and to all elders: “Don’t give up on us. We need you.”

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