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Boomer Bytes #70 Eldering: What is that?

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Eldering: What is That? 

By Steve Canipe

The term “eldering” was originally used by the Quakers to designate a person who had religious training and education and who could help lead the spiritual life of the group. Originally it did not have anything to do with age per se. This is similar to what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS also known as Mormons) still uses. Young people can be referred to as “elders” of the church.


The use of the term in the religious sense has been pretty persistent and it was not until 2006 that The Eldering Institute (http://www.eldering.org/) used the term to indicate wisdom in action with an emphasis on the word “action.” In the 21st century being an elder is being a person who is recognized by the community as having some wisdom to offer. Like the earlier use by the Quakers and LDS, the term “elder” is not exclusive to age. It is really about reaching out and helping others…being a servant.

There is a select group of 12 called the Global Elders and originally it was comprised of, among others, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, and Jimmy Carter. The group had pledged itself to “…support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair.” This statement is taken from the website at http://www.theelders.org/about.

Maybe those of us who are in the boomer-years need to look at this idea of eldering and push forward some of our accumulated knowledge and wisdom to those who are younger and have not experienced what we have experienced. In my recollection it was our parents and grandparents who did some of this eldering for us. I know I learned things about how to live, work, and play through observation and listening to the accumulated wisdom of those older than me.

I also know that at times I chaffed under their tutelage and thought what kind of garbage were they spewing. But today I remember some of those lessons. Probably not all of them, to be sure, but some I have remembered. I have often wondered what it would have been like if there had been widespread use of video when my parents and grandparents were pontificating on this, that, or the other. Would I have had sense enough to record it even if it had been available? I must say probably not until I got older and got to the point where I realized that my parents were not old stick-in-the-mud fogies!

Sometimes I remember particular sayings that those older than me said – like “you don’t believe cow horns will hook do you boy?” This was when I was being skeptical of something happening. Another is “you change or you die” in regards to the constant changing of life and those things that are alive. Sort of like the “death and taxes” saying!!

Maybe we do still have some things to say to the younger generation if we are deliberate about it rather than expecting a serendipitous understanding, like my parents and grandparents expected. There is a Center for Conscious Eldering which makes this effort. On their website at http://www.centerforconsciouseldering.com/content/what-conscious-eldering they make the following statement: “As the baby boom generation begins to cross the threshold into their 60s and can anticipate many more years—even decades—of healthy and relatively prosperous life, modern society is seeing the first rumblings of a demographic and cultural earthquake. The prescription for aging that has for the past half-century so strongly influenced modern society’s views of the roles and potentials of seniors is being shaken to its core, challenged by various versions of a new paradigm that addresses our new understanding of human potential throughout the entire lifespan.”

This seems to mean that we are different from our progenitors; and honestly why not? We have been nothing throughout our boomer-lives if not unpredictable. Why would we be the same/normal in our aging as those who have gone before? The Center for Conscious Eldering has as a premise that true elders have built into our psyche the need to help those younger than ourselves. The Center recognized several truisms, among them that while certain abilities diminish with age others can grow and peak; being old does not equate to being an elder; rather than removing oneself from service, there is a call to become more active in helping; the elderhood is grounded in being rather than doing; and being an elder is about deliberate choices rather than accidental ones. Being elderly and being an elder are two entirely different states of being.

It is this type thing that leads to volunteerism that I mentioned in my earlier column on Volunteering (Bytes#11- https://www.hcpress.com/special/boomer-bytes-11-volunteering-2.html). This is what causes folks to take on roles at churches and through civic organizations. The Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) https://www.score.org/ is one such organization helping new people develop new businesses. There is a group called retired brains at http://www.retiredbrains.com/ that attempts to help folks match expertise and need. Of course there are lots of folks needing this type of help. One group that we older boomers are familiar with is still calling us – the Peace Corps – visit http://www.peacecorps.gov/ to learn more. According to Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the current numbers of volunteers over 50 is about 8 percent but her desire is to have almost double that number at 15 percent. Currently there are over a thousand new volunteer positions available. You can search for particular openings on the website at http://www.peacecorps.gov/openings/?from=hps_c2.

What do we owe the generations coming after us? We probably have a profound ability to influence our progeny and those of our peers and we may not even be aware of it. We already know that many of us have been highly successful in our professional careers and the younger of the boomers are currently making a big impact on society just as the older of us have made large impacts.

In church on Sunday, the minister was delivering a sermon based on John 15:13, which says “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one`s life for his friends.” I guess that I had always interpreted this through my lens of war when a person was willing to physically die for ones’ friends or comrades. But the minister had a different interpretation of this verse than the one I normally had and it was his interpretation that led me to deeper thinking and ultimately to write this particular column. What he basically said was the real focus is on putting others first and making their needs more important that your own. It is about being selfless rather than selfish. In other words, it was being an elder and servant by sharing your wisdom that was learned through experience and in some cases hard knocks. Not hiding the trials and tribulations that you have faced but sharing this information so that others might not have the same trials.

This thought brought to mind another story which deals with serving others. John 13:1-17 describes Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. The basic story dealt with not just cleaning the feet of your friends but serving the needs of others. During Biblical times with the wearing of sandals, a traveler’s feet got dirty and needed to be washed. So the foot-washing story is about serving the needs of others, even if it meant that you have to get your hands dirty in the process and do something you would rather not do.

Both passages are about putting others first and sharing – exactly what an elder does. Using the accumulated knowledge to make sure that others have a better life than you have had– Peace Corps, Retired Executives Corps, or whatever are ways to help in this outreach.

Thinking of yourself, my fellow boomers, what have you done, where have you volunteered, where have you shared your wisdom to help others? Share either in the spaces below or send me an email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com. I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts and hearing how you have gone “eldering.”