Leader Resource 1: Valuing Elderhood
Attitudes toward older people have varied—and continue to vary—across time and cultures. In some times and places, elders have enjoyed positive acceptance and embrace; in others, the reception has been negative. Traditional Near Eastern and Asian cultures revered their elders. The ancient Greeks valued youth most highly, but the Romans valued their elders’ wisdom. The philosopher and orator Cicero lived to an old age of sixty-three and counseled his people, “To your total self, give wholesome nourishment, exercise to the body, and to the brain give reflection of your life choices.”
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries our nation absolutely valued its elders. We still honor those founding fathers and mothers. The development of the Industrial Age in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries brought with it a more negative national view of elderhood. Young people left the family farms to work in cities and didn’t want the agrarian life of their parents and grandparents. Our modern technical age, with its love of speed and connection, smart phones, videoconferencing, email, texting, social media and so on, has made long-distance relationships and connections possible. But technologically assisted connections now frequently replace being together in person. Email and texts have largely replaced letter writing. All this can sometimes stunt the slow, heart-centered process of relationship building. Although being together electronically with family and friends is a marvel, the lack of in-person time can weaken family connections and deprive younger family members of the well-earned wisdom of their elders.
But, heads up, elders! It is time to consider the richness of elderhood! Focus on how to age well, making the best of your wisdom, spirit, and connections. Elderhood brings a gift of time for thinking and reflecting, for integrating what we bring from our deep self and our lived experience. Embracing our own wisdom will help us stay focused and connected to the preciousness of life and help us deal with the “fast forward” life around us. To be more than a physical body is our birthright. Each of us is also a spiritual being who deep within holds faith, hope, and love. Using our spiritual energy and compassionate awareness as tools, we can proudly embrace the tee shirt slogan that says, "Aging Is the Ultimate Extreme Sport."
Life brings difficult losses and challenges. These are painful, but somehow we get through and, in time, can heal from those experiences. We can grow stronger. Our rewards are deepening inner wisdom and strength and understanding of our spiritual underpinnings and the interconnectedness of life. We seekers are part of an interconnected universe. While much about the process of living and dying is unknown, and may always remain a mystery, we can know ourselves, our journey, and the wisdom we have to offer.