Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Learning From Our Elders

My highest vision for my work with people to create and share their personal life legacies is to birth (or midwife) a society in which the wisdom of elders is honored and taken to heart in important life decisions of individuals, organizations, and nations.

In my lifetime of over 60 years, the wisdom of our elders has hardly been considered -- much less taken seriously -- in decisions of our nation and organizations. And the wisdom of women (especially, elderly women) has largely been ignored.

I wonder how different my life would have been if my grandmothers and grandfathers could have shared their life lessons with me. Would I have listened and taken their wisdom to heart in my life's decisions? Would my values be different?

And I wonder how different our country would be if our leaders (and followers) considered the wisdom of women in our nation's governance. Somehow, I can't imagine that we would be fighting yet another war (this time "on terror") in which "old" uninitiated male leaders have once again sent "young" men (and more women than ever before) to die "to protect our way of life" or "to spread democracy" around the world.

These issues came to mind in my reading of William Bridges, The Way of Transition, in which he says that if elders "can perceive, understand, and appreciate the meaning of the meandering path they have followed, they can play a significant social role by helping younger people to understand the significance of the transitions in their own lives. They can help others to discover the deeper meaning (or developmental significance) of otherwise negative life events. For they have encountered the problems that signal a time of transition often enough to recognize them and take them seriously."

Bridges goes on to say that the elderly "can appreciate the tremendous value of living through times when letting go is the only appropriate response to life. Important though perseverance is, they know how easily it can turn into a refusal to get the message that life is trying to deliver. For in many cases, being unwilling to accept defeat -- though celebrated in the world of sports and warfare -- is a guarantee that one will never learn the lessons that must be learned if one is to mature."

"Old people, if they have learned from the transitions they have been through, grow more tolerant. They see that wholeness is the goal, and that to exclude anything is a brief and shallow victory that leads to ultimate defeat. They can help us to counterbalance our society's overemphasis on worldly success, not by scorning success but by disidentifying from the outcomes of the efforts that they, like anyone else, make. To do one's best and then to let outcomes be what they will is both to acknowledge realistically how often outcomes are beyond our control and to guard against the neurotic attempts at controlling how things turn out -- efforts that lead to everything from defensiveness to dishonesty."

Elders have "the good fortune to live in life's richest phase. That is not to say that they may not have pain and grief, but simply that they can at least see beyond life's window dressing. Their only inevitable sadness is that the living they can at last savor is also running out. But they can see and appreciate the lives they have lived as journeys that they have been on."
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1 comment:

jacqueline said...

In response to Bridges' call for elders to facilitate youthful understanding of life transitions: Last year (year before last?) I had an opportunity to attend a performance of Encore Theater, a troupe of seniors who perform their life stories for Oregon youth in schools, detention facilities, and community venues, as they say on their website. They've been a tremendous community resource, and their efforts seem to speak directly to what Bridges is talking about. Check them out at http://www.encoreeugene.net/index.html and find out about similar theatrical projects at http://www.encoreeugene.net/links.html
(Although our local group is currently on break, their website forecasts an update on future plans later this summer.)