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Restoring The Role Of The Elder

Restoring The Role Of The Elder

By Susan Williams

Some time ago I watched Ken Dychtwald’s  Four Observations on the Future of Aging and thought his presentation offered some great insights into what is needed in order for people to age well.  

Ken spoke about the increasing need for building a purpose for maturity.  

He shared that historically we had the role of the Elder. The Elder previously played an important role within the family however this position no longer really exists in our society.  

Another interesting point he shared was that in the US, the average retiree watched 49 hours of television a week. When you think about it – that’s an average of 7 hours a day, 7 days per week – that’s actually more than a full time job .  

As I thought about these two points and all the untapped potential knowledge and talent potentially sitting in front of a television, I couldn’t help but believe that the idea of restoring the role of the Elder could be extremely valuable.

I had my own interpretation of an elder as being an older person whom is often sought for their advice and wisdom but thought I would look into the topic a bit further to increase my own understanding.

I discovered a research paper titled What is an Elder: What Do Elders Do?: First Nation Elders as Teachers in Culture-Based Urban Organizations written by S.M. Stiegelbauer.

In this paper, there was an extensive description of the role of the Elder.  There was one particular statement that I thought really well positioned the role of an Elder;

“Elders should be role models for everyone else. Elders should be teachers to the grandchildren and all young people because of their wisdom.”

Sadly, I think so many of our elderly are ignored or shuffled out of sight with very little thought as to the value that they could contribute back to society. But there is so much that our youth could benefit from learning more about another generations history, heritage and experiences.

What if we had more programs to share this underutilized knowledge and wisdom to support future generations?

What is inspiring is that there are some programs that are actually bringing together seniors and young people to share and help build knowledge with each other. Here are a just a couple of examples that I found.

In one program, students from Brazil were paired with seniors in the US with the intention to have conversations together via the internet in order to help the students learn English.  Here are more details of the initiative;

This is a great example of how to engage people of different generations to work together and help each other. The lessons helped to keep the seniors connected to others, learn some technology skills and provided them a feeling of contributing to the development of younger people. The younger people were able to benefit from older people’s experience and knowledge and in turn increase their own capabilities.  The added bonus to them both was that they actually began to develop relationships with each other.

Another wonderful example of the role of the Elder being implemented was found in a housing complex in Oregon. In this example, the older generation receives some reduced rent in exchange for supporting their “adoptive families” in raising their children. 

We need to actively find ways to leverage and share the knowledge, wisdom and memories of our aging population. It certainly sounds much more appealing to me then spending 49 hours a week in front of the television!

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.