Exploring Elderhood: Creating the map

 Maturing Happily  Comments Off on Exploring Elderhood: Creating the map
Jan 012017

The idea of elderhood may sound good, but where do we find the role models, the route to this destination?  These days, we need to create our own map.  The place of elders in tribal society offers some useful ideas: but our own times are so different that we can’t start from here.  People just aren’t waiting around to receive the wisdom of the elders any more.

If we think about the maiden-mother-crone model of three ages of womanhood, it shows us a big part of the problem, for men and women: getting old is not seen as desirable or fruitful.  The media assail us with the cult of youth.  So how do we start the map-making? One relevant feature of tribal elders is the way peer groups would evolve a wise response to new challenges.  I have helped create such gatherings for maturing men and women, and they can start the process of finding yourself as an elder.  Discovering your identity through a group, not individually, may be novel in our society, but it’s relevant in elderhood.

Carl Jung said that in early adulthood, we choose to fulfil a few parts of ourselves, and if in midlife we don’t open the door to the other parts, they’ll break in through the window.  So there’s an inner collective involved in elderhood as well as an outer: your inner voices not only need to be heard, but also gathered and guided in a positive direction.

I believe adolescence is a useful model for entering elderhood: both are major transitions where the past can’t really guide the future.  And in both, some people step into the new stage smoothly, as if born to it, and others struggle.  I haven’t found elderhood easy: partly because I was still hooked on being a warrior, a role that suited my readiness for heroic struggle.

So you may find that your threshold into elderhood is a loss or a shipwreck.  Some women experience menopause as a loss that needs grieving.  Or it may be a more general sense that you are losing a level of health and energy as you age.  Episodes of loss like this are good to face, and can move you through to gratitude for all the capacities you still have.

Recalling Jung’s comments, elderhood is a time to find new aspects of yourself, and new skills which can replace what’s lost.  For me, one of the painful changes is having less control in my life, less power to make things happen: but the gift in this is learning to influence situations by the qualities I embody, and the reflections and support I offer others, which I believe is the way of elderhood.  The good thing about the lack of role models for elderhood is that you’re free to figure out how you want to do it.  Just beware of being limited by the attitudes of society, family or friends.

It’s a fair generalisation that most adults in their 20s through 40s narrow their focus: marriage, kids, work, home take most of their attention, although we now see more individuals taking a different path.  One of the gifts of the years beyond 50 is the chance to raise your head and look around more widely.  This can include deeper links with your local community, new friends, exploring a spiritual path, and finding ways to meet the big issues of our times.  One of the vital roles of elders is providing a role model and wake-up call on issues where society is in denial, and this is urgently needed for humanity’s addictive consumption patterns and loss of connection with the earth.

Another navigation point which I suggest in mapping your elderhood is how you can serve the tribe.  As you look at the troubles and beauty of today’s world, are there issues that arouse you or inspire you?  If so, be persistent in finding ways to act on your passion and invite other elders to act with you.  Our world may not be calling for the help of the elders, but it certainly needs it.


Snow White and the seventeen dwarves: A fairy tale lesson in resilience

 Inspirations  Comments Off on Snow White and the seventeen dwarves: A fairy tale lesson in resilience
Jul 202016

Snow White woke tired as usual, dreading the day ahead. She thought, “if only evil queens just brought poisoned apples!”

The modern Evil Queen had used the legalities of the German health care system. She realised that all seven dwarves had Special Needs of some kind (Grumpy, Sneezy, Dozy etc.), and promptly had Snow White designated their legal guardian, their Beantworter.

The Evil Queen also used Boiled Frog theory: if a frog is dropped into boiling water, it jumps out, but if you gradually turn the heat up, it boils to death. Each year she added one more Difficult Dwarf to Snow White’s burden: the poor girl had aged eighteen years in ten, and had lost hope and what German’s call wiederstandfahigkeit, or resilienz for short.

If there is a Cosmic Scriptwriter, she or he clearly has a fine sense of irony, shown in this story by the Fairy Godmother appearing in the guise of a compliance officer. She taught Snow White a basic tenet of front-line resilienz: empower your clients, and start setting your own boundaries.

Snow White realised how dependent the dwarves had become, and started doing less for them. Soon there was uproar, but out of it the dwarves started to find their talents. Grumpy got so cross that he took initiatives. Smarty started to clean the place up. Sneezy was told by the others to live in the outhouse. Chirpy started appreciating everyone’s progress. Dozy gave up his tranquilisers and set up a cooking rota.

You may be wondering where is the Prince in this story? The Evil Queen had side-lined him early on, by having him committed to an asylum for narcissistic heroic fantasies.

The Fairy Godmother, whose knowledge of German regulations was prodigious, explained to Snow White that after ten years’ service as a guardian, she could apply to be released from her post and would qualify for a training grant: she decided to train to be a Heroine. And she could nominate a new guardian: who else but the Evil Queen?

Of course, modern training for a Hero/ine includes nothing so crude as physical combat. There are modules like Einflussnetzentwicklung (building an influence network), Buerokratieuberreden (persuading bureaucracy), team dynamics and eco-psychology. For her practical module, Snow White challenged the asylum’s assessment procedures, and secured the Prince’s release. They lived resiliently into the future.

Note all references to German regulations and institutions are speculative.

Men’s Resource: cultivating friendship

 Men's Interest  Comments Off on Men’s Resource: cultivating friendship
May 242016

Good friendships can oil the gearbox, making big change easier, and ice the cake, adding extra delight to life.  But there’s an art to growing and sustaining good friends.  Here are my top tips on this:

  • Be willing to experiment: trying a range of approaches with a variety of people increases your chances of success.
  • Realise that there are many kinds of friendships. Be aware of the various kinds you would like, and try to sense early on what your potential friend wants. For example, the level of openness and emotional sharing may vary hugely. In many male friendships, all this is unspoken: remember Last of the Summer Wine.
  • Imagine a new friendship as a spiral process: don’t plunge in, but let it deepen gradually. Listen for clues from your friend about the subjects they do and don’t want to talk about, and guide them on your preferences.
  • Cultivate your listening skills: try to hear what your friend is saying, and respond to it. Don’t get preoccupied with your own nerves and needs. Listen for what’s not being said: many men struggle to express their feelings or ask for support, so listen for clues and make an offer, for example, “Would it help you to talk more about the divorce?”
  • Co-counselling training can help with friendship skills, including negotiating contracts. This may sound formal, but it’s simply about getting clear expectations between you. Men often share a problem with a friend because they want practical advice, but sometimes they just need a sympathetic ear. Checking what your friend would like from you shows that you care about their needs.
  • Find the courage to make the first move. In shifting from casual contact towards friendship, someone needs to take the initiative: Remember the other guy may be even more shy than you are.
    For men, doing something together can be an easier start to a friendship than sitting and talking. It could be quite simple, like going to a film, or having a walk.
  • Remember the question early in this Chapter about the Giver, Taker and Receiver roles: do you and your friend have a balance between these? If you’re stuck in one role, experiment with changing.
  • As a friendship starts to build, if you want it to deepen, try talking openly with your friend about how it’s going and what you both want from it. This kind of frankness doesn’t come easy in our culture, but it can help both of you to get what you need, and to learn as you go along.
  • Conflicts between male friends can be quite sudden and severe at any age. Often men lack the skill to express and hear difficult feelings, or to use the techniques of conflict resolution. Men may find it easier to dump the friendship than face the conflict. There are some good methods of conflict resolution, such as Non-Violent Communication, which are relevant for friends, groups or communities.
  • As you change, the kind of friends you want will change too. If you want to move from friendship down to acquaintance, do it honestly: talk it through with your friend, hear their feelings, try to reach a point of completion and celebration for the friendship. This will cause less pain than just stopping.