What’s the role of a 21st century “Elder?”

the mindful revolution
image via wisdom2summit.com

Last weekend I was in San Francisco for the Wisdom 2.0, a conference that encourages a culture of greater awareness in a world of growing digital distractions. Along with 2000 other people, I was basically taking part in a conference dedicated to what TIME Magazine recently called the Mindful Revolution. Speakers included spiritual leader Eckhart Tolle, media maven Arianna Huffington and congressmen Tim Ryan.

Whatever you want to call “it” — mindfulness, spirituality or oneness — I am convinced “it” will be one of the biggest defining attributes of the 21st Century and I’m pretty sure “old people” are going to play a major role in this development. At the heart of how we define a wise elder you find one who is compassionate, sincere, patient, tolerant and grateful. After all, it’s hard to have these things if you haven’t been living all that long. That’s not to say these are only age-bound, but for the most part, values take years to truly become valuable.

As part of Wisdom 2.0, I participated in an intensive seminar to explore the notion of “conscious aging” and it raised some important questions about the future of aging, particularly since we’ve got about 30 new years (since 1900) to build into the course of life. Participants were eager to explore new models for living and getting old, especially as we adjust to social change. The mood in the room was reflective, humorous, supportive and purpose-driven and it certainly put some much needed wind in my WiseTribe wings. If you were there, thanks for sharing this time with me and thank you for stopping by WiseTribe.

Here are my key take-aways from the day:

Coming out of the closet

As if we had spent the entire day offloading guilt and shame, one woman remarked at the end of the seminar, “it feels like we’re coming out of the closet.” Hysterically funny — we all laughed — but the truth and gravitas of what underlies her statement is deeply profound — the desire to be open and free by knowing you’re not alone in getting old.

This imprisoning aspect of age is something I experience firsthand though indirectly in the head-banging exercise of describing WiseTribe — and making it marketable — without using the words which would truly describe what it was all about. People advised me to avoid condescending or offensive words. Those conversation more or less went like this:

“I wouldn’t use the word “age” if I were you. Or “old” or “older” for that matter.”  And, “Good luck spinning “elder” as a positive thing in today’s culture,”  … which tailed off at “I’m not feeling “50+” anymore; I don’t think you should use that.”

I was warned that these words should be avoided entirely if the project was going to excite people.  This experience alone highlighted just how deep a problem the notion of getting old really is in our society.

Hey, watch your language, kid!

Speaking of language, we wondered how we can refashion the 50-plus inner monologue so we’re not acting from words such as “decline,” “disease,” “despair” and “diminishment,” but moving towards change, wellness, authenticity and activation of true life purpose.

This is a big question and the answer requires as much of an inside job as it does cultural transformation. Are we capable of this change this, en masse? I certainly hope there is power in numbers and that you Boomers will leave my generation a brand new lexicon.

Calling all role models

About a year ago, one of my role models, in her early 70s, mentioned that she needed a role model, which gave me a little head-turn. She wanted to find a friendly guide to show her how to live into old age and the inevitable end-of-life process. I hadn’t really thought of a role model for that, but it turns out to be a popular thought. Others at this seminar were interested in the idea of having a role model.

The interesting piece to this concept is being the role model. It’s based on an important question: how does one demonstrate to others how to leave the Earth with dignity, grace and peace in the heart?

The shift from “doing” to “being”

To fully experience and appreciate how important this topic is, I think you have to be of a certain age. However, I’m pretty sure I get the concept based on my first few years of owning a Blackberry: I was essentially addicted to “busyness.” Looking back, I wonder now if it was busyness that was the attraction, or if it was more about what my busyness demonstrated to other people that drew me in.

There’s an internal shift that comes with aging; bringing its own inner dialogue which seems at odds with a society that recognizes and rewards those constantly checking off their to-do lists.

I think we all dream of mastering the art of doing nothing, but once it’s done, it seems this dream comes with a twist of unease in the transition.

*By the way, we’re very interested in guest bloggers to write on this subject should you have some thoughts on it!

If I only knew then what I know now

Can we get to those death bed revelations sooner in life and live more authentic lives designed from these key insights? Clearly, this is not a simple question and one that relies on a lot of personalized information. I doubt technology will ever fix this problem but I wonder if getting humans together to talk about this might get us closer to a solution.

By the way, this subject came up here once before. One awesome WiseTriber called our attention to an inspiring Ted Talk called Rethinking the Bucket List. It’s worth the 10 minutes. (And thank you, Helen of @MuthershipNYC!)

How to be a 21st Century elder?

Older adults today don’t have the opportunity to be elders in the same way their grandparents did because of the structural changes society has undergone since the 1950s. Due in large part to families now being spread out across geographies, but in what ways have divorce, blended families and, of course, technology disrupted the traditional, valued role of an elder in society?

We just don’t interact with kids the way we used to. They’re not just running around in the same way, but if they are, they usually have a digital device entertaining them.

How can elders today be of service to those just entering midlife, I wondered, but the discussion didn’t come up. As complex and fast-moving as today’s life seems, I’m sure everyone could use a wise elder in their life.

Plenty of individuals are leading local elder programs which could offer great learning to other local communities — and to WiseTribe — which could, ideally, be adopted and scaled into national programs to promote the value of elders in society. Some are mixing old with young in their communities through school programs and others are organizing “elder salons” which promote authentic conversations on life, age and transitions. If you have an interest in learning more about setting up an elder salon in your communities, I would recommend getting in touch with the founders of the radio show Elder Culture.

A historic moment — how do we seize it?

Much change is taking place in the world, no doubt, and the aging boom before us will offer essential wisdom for the future of humankind. My wish for WiseTribe is to create a reason to bring together generations for learning, relating and creating new ways of living as we journey into the future. Over the next few weeks, I will publish ideas on how we could bring WiseTribe to life, both online and offline, to build a more meaningful community based on true connection, engagement and positive change.

Your feedback, suggestions and creative thinking would be greatly appreciated. There’s no way I can do this alone — I’m definitely going to need a WiseTribe to carry out this vision.



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