This presentation was given at a recent dinner hosted by the Center for Elder Independence and the Fund for Elder’s Independence.
This video, from Nader’s recent eldership presentation at CEI, is about changing our perception of aging, reframing the conversation from about getting old to getting mature and opening ourselves up to the concept of Elder as a role and engaging in Eldership practices. Elders of any age can practice the Eldership values of giving back, mentorship and providing guidance to their communities.
Eldership Dinner w/ Dr Nader Shabahangi
Presentation for the Center for Elders’ Independence(CEI) on exploring our perceptions about aging and eldership.
As many a philosopher and sage have pointed out, what is nearest is often the hardest to see. Particularly in our so-called adult life, it is seldom a simple matter to take a step back and evaluate how we are living. How often do we reflect on whether our ways of living are really our choice or are instead heaped on us by external influences, ranging between mainstream values, education, family, social, and cultural norms? Do these resonate with our own inner inklings and desires? Are we simply following the herd?
These questions make sense when we can see available alternatives. Moreover, new alternatives seem to be emerging. As our society ages demographically, we begin to re-evaluate the arc of life from the point of view of the mature elder. Many life philosophies and thought traditions are available to us. In a sense, we start taking a rear view perspective of our lives, looking at the values we have followed as adults mirrored by those who have long life experience.
Watching any news or informational program on television will give one a good idea of the values held by a given culture. Throughout the global north, and increasingly in the south, a common set of adult values is quite well known to us. Yet these values are seldom questioned unless something happens in our lives, perhaps a tragedy, heartbreak, or misfortune. At such a crisis, we may come to a stop, wonder about our approach to life and our attitude to people, review our direction, and even change course.
In this presentation Nader gives a brief synopsis of dominant values in order to contrast them with a different, elder-informed set of values. Those values form part of what he believes is the foundation of an attitude towards a life of Eldership.
Humans are meaning-making beings. We need purpose to feel fulfilled. What is our purpose when we get older, old, and very old? How do we make sense of our accrued years within societies that have done away with the role of elders and forgotten about eldership? Clearly, the world needs elders and the values they bring to the fore. Even a cursory view of the world today and the many issues needing to be tackled shows that people and planet are not well served by our dominant adult values. Elder values can augment these adult values with a more sustainable approach to these challenges. For this to happen our aged population, our elders, need to start valuing themselves, to appreciate what their life journey has endowed them with.
It is the very process of aging that allows a person to ripen into full humanity, to develop into the elder who is able to guide and mentor the next generation. In this way, elders are to be understood as stewards of society and the planet—as has traditionally been their role. Would we not rather have the most experienced and wise leaders guiding us, especially during troubled times?
Presented by Nader Shabahangi, PhD
Renowned aging and elder care expert
CEO/Founder of AgeSong Senior Living Communities
March 9th, 2017 at Center for Elders’ Independence, Oakland, California
Transcript of Video:
We actually want to bring up the conversation of Aging and reframe aging away from the decline model to a model where we say “growing old,” we would want to change this word from old to something else…Growing wise, mature.
When you say normally, “37 years old” and what happens when I say “59 years mature” and he’s 37 years old?
In our society, youth dominated society we always talk about, he just won.
Ageism is one of those last archaic “isms” where you say, “Oh, you look young for your age.” You go, “huh, thank you,” right?
[Nader is writing out a diagram]Here we are born, over here. You are happiest when you are youngest. And you are happiest when you are most mature.
The idea that there is a time when I just get through this middle adulthood crisis that here things are going to, you know, move up in the way that I feel about myself, and the world. I think that is a wonderful “image.”
We live in a society that has the “decline” model, right? There’s the prime of life, and then it goes downhill- and this would be something that we would want to supplant with an idea that life gets better and better and better. So this is a “maturing” idea where I “wisen,” as you guys said, “wisen.” Where I mature. Where I deepen.
Do people know about the word, “Eldership?” [workshop attendee asks, “Eldership?”] Eldership. It’s kind of a new word, we don’t hear it much.
I am bringing the values, or the ideas that come with being an Elder. Talk about what it is that you, forget “society” and “how you should be,” what you look forward to as you are maturing more into your next however many years there are. What are the things that you really would love to shed right now, at your age and still really look forward to growing into?
Related to agism, how we really cannot take “age,” the chronological age, as a measure for anything.
Think about how much effort it takes to live a life and then to actually be told “you haven’t lived that much, you haven’t put in that much effort,” right? You say, “No, I am sorry, I really do feel like I should, I own the 72 years.”
I would like to propose, a number-free idea of Elder.
So then, “What is an Elder?” So then maybe I just introduce this little idea that Elder is a role.
Elder is someone who actually deescalates conflict and in someways can see both sides, right? That’s an “Elder.” That’s actually also what we would call earlier, “practicing Eldership.” So Elder would actually actually go into any kind of tension and deescalate tension.
It would be beautiful, that’s my goal anyway, that the older or the more mature I get in someways I can help practice eldership in a way that for example an older wise person would continue to guide and a mentor. Continue to actually bring in, wouldn’t it be beautiful, if those elders could actually really be part of helping the youngsters who are often very lost. You know, on their path.
Isn’t that beautiful, if you have a really older person say to a youngster, “You are going to be ok. It looks formidable. It looks like you’re never going to get there, but you are going to be ok, I believe in you.” And that’s Eldership.
How you behave and how you act, that’s more the role. Like the role of the mother, the role of the father, etc. So Elder is the role and Eldership is ideally what an Elder, whatever age, so this is any age, would exhibit or practice or in the sense of mentoring, in the sense of guiding, in the sense of not stepping back, and thinking “I am too old I can’t do anything.” But rather, say “No, I have lived and suffered through many, many decades and I am not going to let that go, I am not going to waste that. I am going to put that, it has value.”
So we actually need to learn, we don’t need to do anything, but it would be nice if one can appreciate all the suffering that you’ve gone through.
I have some students that work with people who are forgetful and after a few months I ask them, “So what are learning working with people who are forgetful in different stages?” and almost all of them say, “Oh, I have become less critical of myself.”
Dementia literally means no mind. I mean, it’s another topic, but many of us are afraid of becoming forgetful.
Get away from burdening yourself from thinking that being an elder is something that is not as desirable, but rather to one that I want to become an elder so I can do the woodworking, I can become a mentor. I can become someone that can give to this planet.
The way you treat an elder is the way you will treat yourself when you are older. So especially when you’re driving behind someone who’d, [laughter], right? Just remember you’re going to be honking towards yourself one day. So really any moment, actually I really do mean that, you know, so if you can actually look elders and then yourself in the mirror in a way that is loving and kind and caring and appreciative of the wrinkles and the gray, green or whatever you have going, that would really be a first step. So you can actually in the morning when you about to take that anti-aging cream, you know? I know, I know, I do it. So then just think about that, whatever that is. Be kind to Elders of any aging. Hopefully we will continue these dialogues, changing the concept of aging, to something that is more loving, kind and caring.
Thank you guys for coming.