Elders of quality
by Stan Hirst
Just a year ago some of the Suzuki Elders exchanged views in this blog on what it means to be an Elder.
Our Elder Emeritus, Phillip Hewett, reminded us of the cardinal underpinning of eldership, i.e. a spiritual world-view to motivate efforts towards achieving a sustainable future for our planet. He cited David Suzuki in further reminding us that the label ‘Elder’ was traditionally a title to honour individuals who have experienced a profound and compassionate reconciliation of outer- and inner-directed knowledge, and have revealed a sense of empathy and kinship with other forms of life, rather than a sense of separateness. Such Elders view an appropriate relationship with nature as a continuous two-way dialogue rather than as a one-way vertical monologue.
The Suzuki Elders have sought a common platform to bring their members together in common cause. This has been labelled the Elder Perspective and focuses on the ways in which the Association attempts to fulfil its mandate, including using realistic and positive frameworks for tasks related to conservation and achieving sustainability and social justice.
But how would one identify Elders going about their chosen tasks? Judgement by age or appearance? Hopefully not. Is just application and acceptance of the label Elder enough, or should there be some obligation to meet and maintain standards of behaviour or attitude?
Alternatively put, how does being an Elder translate in terms of qualities and behaviour as we go about the day-to-day, often tiresome, usually frustrating and always challenging business of engaging and attempting to secure a sustainable future for Earth? The Suzuki Elders have never considered these aspects in any depth, but it seems our Australian counterparts have.
In 2009 a group of 25 elders gathered in Perth, Western Australia, to participate in a public forum sponsored by the Eldership Project. They were charged with sharing their thoughts, feelings and ideas around the theme What are the qualities of an Elder? Their key thoughts and conclusions were captured, and have been reproduced here, courtesy of the Eldership Project.
The Perth forum concluded that eldership is about two things: qualities and roles. A person may have the qualities of an Elder but may not necessarily fill any meaningful Eldership role. Alternatively, a person may attempt to fulfil the role of Eldership without possessing the essential qualities. The forum noted that true Eldership only happens when a person with the qualities fulfils the role.
Some of the possible qualities of an Elder which were identified and recorded are as follows.
LIFE – their life experiences have led to deep learning.
GENEROSITY – they are willing and able to give of themselves.
ACCEPTANCE – they have come to accept life as it is, including their current condition, mistakes or injuries of the past and the insecurity of the future.
ACTIVITY – they are still active in life.
CONNECTION – they are connected to nature/spirit and to community.
FREEDOM – they have the freedom to speak their mind because they are no longer seeking to ascend in life and do not need to be concerned with the politics of success. They are also not attached to much.
COURAGE – they are willing to stand up and speak out. They have the courage to face their own lives.
SELF-VALIDATION – they have a deep appreciation of their own self and, while they may enjoy the validation of others, they do not seek it in the way younger men and women do. Their validation comes from the Spirit or from within.
JOI DE VIVRE – they have an easy joy for life.
PRIORITIES – they have developed a sense of what is – and is not – important.
CURIOSITY – they are still curious, still interested, still fascinated by life, still learning.
HOPE – despite the darkness in the world or of their own life experience, they have hope.
CALMNESS – they are not afraid, not hassled, not rushed.
AWARENESS – they have developed a keen awareness of their own self (psyche, personality, mind, shadow, etc). They may not have a perfect or complete understanding, but they have dedicated themselves to self-awareness – to “know thyself”.
EMPATHY – they can sense and feel and understand the feelings of others.
COMPASSION – they are sensitive, forgiving and compassionate.
MORTALITY – they are aware of and actively developing a final relationship with dying. They can face death, eyes open. They can think and talk about it. It is safe to explore death in their presence – and develop a deeper appreciation of life.
LISTENING – they listen actively, carefully, lovingly. They know when to speak, when to ask questions and when to be silent.
SAFETY – they bring a spiritually grounded safety to relationships and interactions.
CONTEMPLATION – they relish and require silence and contemplation, as distinct from passivity, boredom or listless inaction.
ACTION – they know when to act or speak and their actions are grounded in that depth of contemplation.
RESOLUTION – they have mostly resolved the grievances, hurts, mistakes and lost opportunities of their lives. They are not still kicking themselves or mentally imprisoning others for the past. As well as they are able, they have learnt from those things, healed and left those things behind.
RESPECT – they respect others and are respected by others.
HEALING – they may be able to bring healing arts to new or old wounds.
ALCHEMY – they have the capacity to affect, influence or lead transformation in conflicts, situations or individuals.
GRACE – is difficult to define, but true Elders have got it.