Forward: Older, Wiser, Back for More

| November-December 2008

Since he left the magazine in 2000, founder Eric Utne has taught meditation to people diagnosed with terminal illness, been the seventh- and eighth-grade class teacher at a Minneapolis Waldorf school, published Cosmo Doogood’s Urban Almanac, and served on several boards, including the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. Now, by his count, he has “about 27 plates spinning”—including one that revolves around bridging our generational divide, which he writes about here.

Have you ever noticed that the word elder evokes something close to revulsion among baby boomers, especially when it’s applied to them? Go ahead and try it on people between the ages of 44 and 62 (born between 1946 and 1964). Ask them something like “What’s the elder perspective on campaign finance reform?” Or “Have you and your elder friends discovered Grand Theft Auto, Stephen Colbert, or Facebook yet?” Or “What’s it like to be an elder today when your mantra used to be ‘Never trust anyone over 30’?”

Well . . . I’m 62, an elder if you will, and proud of it. My aim is to redeem the word elder—an archetypal social type, essential to any vibrant, sustainable community.

In most traditional and indigenous societies, elders played important roles, from initiating youth to advising or even guiding the community. The Iroquois Confederacy, organized around five prominent Native American tribes, relied on elder participation in community councils more than 300 years before the Declaration of Independence. Each council member, who was appointed for life and served at the pleasure of the clan’s mothers and grandmothers, was charged with considering all sides of a discussion or dispute, always seeking consensus.

Given the serious social, political, and economic challenges we face in the coming years, I’ve been heartened to see that the spirit of this Iroquois tradition is making a comeback.

On July 18, 2007, Nelson Mandela announced the formation of a group called The Elders. The idea for this group was brought to him by entrepreneur/adventurer Richard Branson and recording artist Peter Gabriel. According to Branson, since the world is now a global village, “it’s time we had our global village elders.” Among the group are Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Aung San Suu Kyi, Muhammad Yunus, and several others.

11/10/2008 2:22:30 PM

Even more important than whether we identify as elders is how youth identifies us ... and i am a lucky one indeed to have a young grandson who embraces both the word and its meaning to describe me.....

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