Elder, Elderly and Eldering

By Jim Selman | Bio

I read a nice piece called Welcoming the Approach of the Golden Years by Gary Westover talking about his growing awareness that he has a choice about how he grows older. He can follow the path of his parents and others and deteriorate each year until finally succumbing to dementia or worse. Or he realizes he can see that it is his attitudes and expectations that create the future he is living into and he can look forward to a continually expanding and rewarding experience of living. How we age is a choice and a commitment, it is not a given. He is realizing the difference between being an elder and becoming elderly.

We have added a third distinction called ‘eldering’. Some people love the term and others say it reminds them of the fact that they are getting ‘old’ and with that thought comes the fear of being elderly. This is why there is so much resistance to growing old and people trying to hang onto their youth just a little longer. Eldering is our term for the question of ‘how to’ live to the fullest after retirement and as we enter the last third of life. Eldering is wisdom in action. It is what true elders are doing with their lives through service and connecting with others in the community. Eldering is mid-life leadership. It is a kind of natural coaching or mentoring process.

Eldering is giving the best of what we’ve learned and who we are to others in a way that allows them to experience and express the best of who they are.

The fact is that whatever our philosophies or theories we will get old and we will die. If we can accept this, then we are free to ask “How will we live the rest of our lives?” Will we extend the patterns and practices that have served us for the first 50 or 60 years of our life or will we see ageing as the opportunity to create ‘who we are’ and ‘who we are for others’ and have the end of our lives be a free and full expression of our dreams?

Getting older (for everyone, I think) offers an opportunity to grow beyond an ego-driven, self-centered way of being to a more Self-determined authentic expression. At some point, we all realize that life isn’t about us, but the opportunity to leave something worth leaving—even if it is simply a life well-lived.

Eldering is a verb that underscores what Gary Westover said. We have a choice. Realizing this, however, doesn’t change anything. We must exercise the choice and be responsible for the consequences. Then, and only then, can we step forward and be recognized as a true Elder—someone who can transform wisdom into action!!!!

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.