Community

I am writing a speech. It is the speech I would give to a college graduation ceremony if anyone ever asked me to give the commencement address. So far no one has. In the speech I am telling the new graduates they are as ‘adult’ as they will ever be and that I don’t really have any answers for them. The world is changing too quickly for me (or anyone in my generation) to presume to know what they will need to know in the future. I am also suggesting that, whatever else defines our respective generations, there is one thing we can count on—there are lots of problems that need to be solved.

I am suggesting to them that ‘we’ need to solve these problems together—we need to bring the perspectives of old and young together. We need to share the wisdom of both of our worldviews with each other. I suggest to them that wisdom isn’t about knowledge so much as it is about judgment—making choices and taking action. I tell them that ‘Eldering’ is wisdom in action—not just the wisdom of the old, but also the wisdom of the young.

I see age as little more than biological change. Unfortunately, age has evolved to become a primary factor in how we see the world—especially our future—and is also one of the fundamental ways we define ourselves and other people. Age separates us more than unites us, even though it is one of the facts of life that is 100% in common to all of us (along with death and taxes).  Finally, I am beginning to see that we’ve allowed age to be one of the major factors in undermining, and in some cases destroying, ‘community’ as the primary institution for organizing how we deal with the world.

For example, we are fortunate to have a wonderful community center not too far from our home. It has facilities for sports, the arts, learning and a variety of meetings. All of these are spelled out in the seasonal program guide. The guide, however, has the programs carefully segmented by age: youth, teenagers, adults and ‘seniors’. There is a big debate going on about what we should call seniors and currently the 55+ advocates seem to be winning.

Anyway, I am wondering why should a community be segmented into age categories? I was talking to a ‘senior’ in one of the art groups who was complaining that the kids classes were more fun because they could ‘play’ with finger paint and other ‘stuff’, but the senior classes were limited to pen, paint and paper with a heavy focus on doing it right.

It seems to me that somewhere over the last 50 years or so we’ve replaced ‘cohesive’ life-long communities based on place, family, and/or ethnicity and organized ourselves into groupings based on interests, specific activities or affiliations.  These are more like ‘member groupings’ than communities, for there is no commitment to belonging, no role or raison d’être beyond interests and activities.

The idea of ‘elder’ itself originates as a concept that is inseparable from community. To be an ‘Elder’ is not an entitlement of age: it is a role bestowed by others and suggests a responsibility for the future of the community and the well-being of all its members. In an earlier blog I spoke about the role of elder as a foundation for linking a society’s past, present and future. Eldering, as I speak of it, is an extension of this tradition that also acknowledges the importance of action and relationship. We need people willing to commit to sustaining diverse communities that nurture, empower and inspire people of all ages and backgrounds. It is only through such inclusive communities that we can create a future and a world that works for everyone!

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