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What if Elders were Essential?

Many years ago, I met a Native American woman in her 60’s who was very conscious of her approaching elderhood. She was actively looking around her and making mental notes: “That’s the kind of elder I want to be…. Nope, not like that one.”

elder woman looking out a window

It was a revelation to me—I thought you just got old. But here was a woman who understood the value of this time of life and was actively, consciously preparing for it. She wanted to make her best contribution to her community.

Just as we have isolated our youth from the rest of society, so have we written off our elders. Here again, we’re “leaving genius on the table.”

For some reason, we’ve decided that once a person retires, they really aren’t valuable anymore. Maybe it’s because we think slowing down is a bad thing. Or that only the quick are useful. Whatever it is, once you stop “producing” in this society, you pretty much become invisible.

But this process of slowing down is so incredibly valuable! The rest of us are so busy running around “producing,” that we don’t take time to stop and reflect on where all this production is leading us. Where is this engine going?

Just when people have accumulated enough decades of experience to have developed some wisdom, we throw a retirement party and send them home. And all that wisdom and experience walks out the door with them.

We need our elders.

Just as we need the energy and creativity of our youth, we need the wisdom and experience of our elders. If we are to create a world of prosperity and well-being for every human on the planet, we’re going to need every mind and every heart working on this. We need to reach back and remember what used to be. We need to stretch forward and imagine what could be. It’s going to take all of us.

So the next time you have a conversation with someone, ask… and listen… and learn. Ask about their experiences. Listen to their insights. Learn as much as you can. And honor them for the contributions they are continuing to make.

What if we rebuilt elderhood? What if we valued people for their wisdom and experience? What if we made room for everyone to contribute and everyone to benefit?

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