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Contemplative Leadership


The Elder Within: Re-affirming The Meaning Of Elderhood In Our Society and In Ourselves

Updated: May 10, 2022

Rick B Raymond

February 12, 2021

The Elder Within

It used to be that elders were held in esteem, considerable esteem, as the concentration of life experiences …. today there is nothing ennobling about aging. …. There is a great loss to humankind with a diminishing recognition of elders. …. When did a plurality of old people turn into a burden for the culture?” *

Elderhood has became an exploration for me. Perhaps for my age, but largely because of the significance elders have provided over time in connecting cultures and traditions across generations.

I have come to believe there is value for each of us in rediscovering the force of elderhood in our society today, and illuminating the capacity for elderhood in each of us.

There are various definitions of elderhood. I am using the understanding of elderhood used by indigenous traditions. I also am making a distinction between elder and elderly. While an internet search on elders or elderly will yield a great number of articles on “living your golden years” with meaning and purpose. It stops short of illuminating the qualities of an elder.

A distinctive characteristic of the “elder” in indigenous traditions from the “elderly” in today’s western cultures is the passing on of wisdom and threads of knowledge to the next generation. There are elderly in our culture who are elders, but missing is the language and systems to support them. However, not all elderly are elders and not elders are elderly.

In indigenous communities, elders are the bearers of knowledge, culture and wisdom - across traditions and generations. They carry qualities of compassion for others, have life experiences to draw upon, and possess a “quiet leadership.”

There are elders amongst us today, who live purposeful lives and are giving of themselves for the benefit of future generations. We lack, however, in our traditions, the language of elderhood for recognizing them, for nurturing them, and for discovering the elder within.

Through conversations we can discover the unique qualities of the elder learning, experience, and wisdom that helps sustain our communities into the future.

* Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age -The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble (2018).

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