issue on elders. I was invited to my friend and colleague David Korten's 65th birthday party. The party was pleasant enough, but I could feel that he was down in the dumps. From 65 on, it's all downhill, right? What's to celebrate?
Then, another friend arrived, Tim Iistowanohpataakiiwa, a Native American priest and traditionalist. Tim offered a simple ceremony inducting David into the ranks of elderhood.
After that, something shifted for David. He now calls the ceremony one of the most important gifts of his life. “Rather than passing into irrelevance on the path to death,” David writes in the introduction to his upcoming book, “I was initiated into elderhood as mentor, teacher, and wisdom-keeper.”
This shift in perspective on aging is what this issue of YES!
While insurance adjusters and health-care planners note with trepidation our lengthening life expectancy, and leisure industries scramble to cater to bored retirees, we are proposing that there is still work for elders to do. But it's a different kind of work.
While most policy discussion centers on the burden of growing numbers of retirees, we would like to suggest that elders are an invaluable resource whose capacities for far-sightedness and compassion have never been needed more.
In traditional cultures, elders have often been the ones who take a stand for the well-being of not just themselves but of future generations.
Consider today's accelerating crises: climate change, the gap between rich and poor, our addiction to oil, the erosion of democracy and human rights. When have we had a greater need for the wisdom of elders?
The good news is that the largest cohort of elders ever to live at one time has arrived. What we don't know is what sort of leadership these elders will offer and what sort of life they will choose to lead.
You could think of this issue of YES!
as a guide to some of the choices that are involved in conscious eldering—whether as a grandparent or a sage (or both), a musician or a person coming to terms with serious illness (or both), an Israeli witness to human rights abuses or an elderly woman feeling the creakiness in her bones (or both).
This issue is also a guide to the good life for elders. After all, would we expect baby boomers to put up with anything less than a meaningful old age? Boomers will expect to age with dignity, great company, good health, an active spiritual life, and a way to make meaningful contributions.
If you're a young person, what has this got to do with you? You too will one day get old—if you're lucky. In the meantime, you may be caring for elderly parents. You may be looking for a mentor or a wise confidant. You may need a grandparent for your kids, or a surrogate grandparent for yourself. And an elder out there may need you to care about them, to challenge them, and to share your passions.
The truth is we need each other across the generations. And in this time of mounting crises, we need our elders to act as elders and take a stand for the next seven generations.
P.S. Would you like to share your experience with elder?ing or with elders? Are you interested in dis?cussing this issue, or connecting with YES! readers in your community? E-mail us.