Tag Archives: elders

The Elders’ Declaration

by Stan Hirst

Some things are worth repeating.  Like walking the Lynn Creek canyon on the North Shore in early winter when the grey rain keeps everybody else indoors. Like watching the flocks of band-tailed pigeons make their annual brief sojourn to my neighbourhood to guzzle whatever they can find in the greenbelt trees. Like pilfering another piece of my wife’s blueberry cobbler.  All quality things.

Here’s another.  While cleaning up my sorely overloaded hard drive I came across a set of drafts compiled by the SE Executive Committee more than six years ago.  One of them was an Elders’ Declaration.

Over the ensuing years we have done our collective best to honour the principles embedded in that declaration. We haven’t always succeeded in meeting our own high goals. I rather doubt we ever expected to, but we’ve certainly had an honest go at it.

As I said, some things are worth repeating, and this declaration  is one of them.


grafik-6We are the elders of this great planet Earth, the only planetary home we know and will ever know. Before our fellow sojourners on this planet, we affirm our deepest commitment to protect and preserve the earth and its ecosystems and to share them with all future generations.

In our time we have witnessed astonishing developments in engineering, medicine, transportation and telecommunications. When we first ventured forth into this world much of the technology that is now taken for granted had yet to be invented. Our lives have benefitted immensely in health and material comforts and in membership in a strengthening global community. But we remember too the horror of wars that inflamed the world and the great economic depressions that inflicted massive global hardship. We know that there is no guarantee that these will not occur again.

When we first trod the earth as humans, our numbers were only a third of what they are today, and only a quarter of what they will be when our grandchildren one day assume the role of elders. When we set out, vast areas of the planet – much of its tropical and boreal forests, the ocean depths, the coral reefs and the great savannas – were pristine and undeveloped. Within the space of a lifetime, ecosystems and species have succumbed to our economic demands. The air, water and soil have become dumping grounds for our toxic wastes. Conflicts over water and food supplies are now a growing threat to our most vulnerable societies and to world peace.

We have forgotten that, as biological beings, our very survival and well-being are completely dependent on nature that gives us clean air, clean water, clean food from soil, and clean energy from the sun.  We have to acknowledge that without these fundamental things, we can only sicken and die. We have come to the realization that all species on Earth are our kin and are related to us through a common evolutionary history. In an unparalleled act of generosity, our earthly relatives have continued to cleanse, replenish and create our most fundamental needs. We now see that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the inheritance of the many are wrong. Environmental degradation has severely eroded our priceless natural capital and will continue to do so until we desist and come to the realization that truly sustainable development has to account fully for all ecological and social costs. We are but one brief generation in the long march of time; the future is not ours to erase.

As elders, we declare that we cannot stand idly by and witness the desecration of our planetary home, its biosphere and all its creatures that provide our life essentials and our companionship. We realize that we have lost our way, our sense of home and our feeling of belonging to the rest of Creation. We know that this does not bode well for our children, their children, and all the generations that will follow us.

Therefore, we commit to doing our part to prevent further catastrophic environmental harm. We will take all necessary actions to minimize future climate change.  We will work to preserve habitats for endangered and threatened species. We will advocate for sustainable practices individually and in our communities, based on values of fairness, justice, and compassion for all. We believe that we can make a difference and we urge others to join us in our efforts.

We call on all governments to bring about binding international, national and local accords to sustain the intricate web of ecological relationships on our planet. We call on our leaders and fellow citizens to respect the earth’s diversity and ecosystems, and to seek peaceful paths to sustainable economies.




The Silence of Intergenerational Communication

by Graham Rawlings

We are Elders and, as such, we are categorized either as Baby Boomers (52 -70) or Pre-Baby Boomers (70 – ??). We are not Millenials or Generation Y (19 – 35) or post- Millenials or Generation X (35 – 52) unless we are flying under false colours. Pre-Baby Boomers are also referred to as the Silent Generation in some quarters. What does this say about communications between generations?

I recently carried out some research on this in the False Creek district of Vancouver, British Columbia, over several weeks. This being my neck-of-the-woods it seemed an appropriate place to endeavour to see how people of different ages relate to each other, or not, as the case may be.

The start of my study happens to be a wonderful Spring morning with a 120 freshness in the air. I am taking my constitutional along the sea wall to Granville Island Market, ready to pass the time of day with all and sundry but especially with Generation Y.

The snow-capped hills provide a scenic backdrop and the sun is glinting on the ripples in the water. The rhododendrons are in bloom. There are many birds around, the seagulls are wheeling above, ducks are on the water, chicks already growing up. Canada geese are strutting around, and chickadees are chirping in the bushes. There are no eagles to be seen at the moment but I know that if I walk to the west I would likely see at least one standing as a sentinel above its ragged nest near the empty coastguard station which, thanks to our new progressive federal government, is in the process of being reopened.

I know that I am old(ish) and don’t regularly carry a charged cell phone, and I don’t have a dog any longer (regrettably), so who might I share a conversation with this morning? There are likely looking folks of the right generation seen from a distance walking towards me, but as they get closer I see that they have plugs in their ears and their concentration is elsewhere. No chatting with me there!

But the market is a different scene as the stalls unfurl prior to opening time. The fruit and vegetable stalls are having their covers taken off, the bagels are set ready to be baked, and the soaps and lotions are being unwrapped. Maybe it is a little too early for the delicatessens and butchers to display their wares.

A delightful conversation with the two assistants at the bakers buoys my spirits as I buy their excellent and wonderfully smelling breads. It is always good to wander around the market at this time when customers are few. The aroma of coffee compels me to get my first fix of the day.

Maybe I shall be luckier with communications on my return trip along the seawall. The girl controlling the traffic under the Granville Bridge where the seismic retrofit construction is being undertaken is less interested in seeing what is falling from above or helping me cross the road than in checking her cell phone. So much for liability issues! By the time that I return home along the seawall it is time for the speed-cyclists, either rushing to work or being hell-bent on getting their morning exercise. Joggers are few but those demonstrate quite a wide range of fitness levels. Alas, no chance of striking up conversation with any of these single-minded enthusiasts. Some might even be Generation X baby boomers so I need to be careful in drawing conclusions.

Fast forward to another day of research. Today is a lucky day! I am taking my friend’s golden retriever to the UBC Endowment Lands, welcome exercise for us both. The demographics are different in comparison with the seawall. The new neighbourhoods that have been developed on the large UBC campus have resulted in an influx of immigrants drawn to the proximity of good schools and the University. In the woods Logan is my great help. Many people, mostly those with dogs, smile and even chat. This is so different by comparison with the times when I am walking in the woods on my own. Then I am regarded as suspicious – even without a raincoat! There was a murder here several years ago which has never been solved so maybe it is all understandable! Nevertheless the braver souls consider that the peace and freshness of the woods make the risk of interaction and conversation worthwhile. I deduce that many of these friendly folk are actually pre-baby boomers and maybe should not be really be called the ‘silent generation’.

Most recently, in the absence of real communication  and to assuage my pre-baby boomer loneliness, I have become an eavesdropper, a habit which troubled my late wife. My interest is not intrusive or invasive but merely a gathering of snatches of conversation on the hoof, so to speak. People of interest are not those egotists who deliberately invite you and all others around into their cell phone conversations. We all know them. I like the odd phrases that I hear, the unusual accents and cultures caught as people pass by that send me off on flights of fancy. Many are happy, some are sad, often coloured by the sun or dampened by the rain. The flights are influenced by the body language too. Hand-seeking-hand or even the surreptitious kiss. I can the weave a story round them – probably far from the truth but nonetheless interesting – to fulfil my conversational needs  in the absence of communication as they pass off into the distance.

Does my research show that I am personally out of step with Generation Y? Is our whole generation of Elders really like ghostly ships that pass in the night and are out of touch with the younger generations of X, Y and boomers?.

Obviously if I am to communicate effectively I should get a smart phone (or recharge my old one!) to make sure that I can share my morning thoughts in the way that the Xs and Ys now seem to. Despite that, I will still keep smiling in the hope of some real (traditional?) pre-baby boomer conversation along the way with whichever generation wishes to communicate with me. My cell phone number is available by request.


What do Elders think?

by Stan Hirst

What’s the problem?

The Suzuki Elders began life way back in 1996 as The Council of Elders of the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). Over the past 19 years the group has morphed into the present-day Association of Suzuki Elders (SE) and has expanded and matured in terms of scope, ambition and membership.

Membership has expanded over the years to over 100 as interested elders across the country and even beyond Canada’s borders have been attracted by the philosophy and goals of the SE. Membership has been predictably weighted towards Vancouver and the B.C. Lower Mainland because of the proximity of the DSF and its strong support to the Elders. Currently about 60% of members reside in the Greater Vancouver area.

Some significant drags on the level of communication between SE members, on one hand, and between members and the Vancouver-based Executive on the other, have gradually emerged over the years. One appears to be simple geography which hinders the preferred medium of communication – face-to-face contact. The other may be a reluctance on the part of many members to embrace modern communications technology such as Facebook and Google Groups. There may be other factors responsible, but the net result is that at present more than 60% of the membership is essentially silent.

For an Association which charges no membership fees and for which members’ inputs are the life-blood of its existence, this is a serious problem. It has been discussed many times at Council and Working Group levels, but remains an issue to be resolved.

The process

The idea of simply asking members for their views and opinions on whatever subject they deemed to be contextually important came to me a few months ago. I admit I was influenced by recalling the approach used by my local colleagues in Asia and Africa years ago when we sought the opinions and approval of local villagers for proposed projects within their traditional areas. No lectures, no Power Point, no clipboards or lengthy questionnaires – just simple conversation. We tried to steer the conversation towards relevant issues (not always successfully), but eventually we came away knowing more than we did when we started out.

Time and resources prevented me from chatting to every SE member over the farm gate, so I did the next best thing – I e-mailed all the members and invited their responses to a few open questions:

  • describing themselves and their views on their relation to the environment and sustainability;
  • saying where they saw themselves, their families and communities heading in the next decades;
  • naming significant areas, concerns or problems which the Suzuki Elders should be addressing; and
  • telling how the Suzuki Elders could best use their skills in achieving its goals.

The results

Members’ responses to the survey were not exactly earth-shattering. Fifteen Elders out of a canvassed total of 105 responded to the questions.

What to make of an 87% non-response rate on the part of my fellow Elders? It’s a little like The curious case of the dog that did not bark. Just as in that epic tale, there could be several reasons for the reticence of the Elders to engage in electronic conversation but, alas, I lack the mental acuity of a Sherlock Homes to interpret the hidden meanings in non-answers.

The high number of non-respondents makes the responses from those good people who did use their precious time to tell me what they thought all the more valuable. It’s the quality of the replies that matter here, not the quantity.

Because the answers to the various questions were quite open-ended (as intentionally set out in the request sent out), the information provided by the respondents is not to be crunched or statistically manipulated in any way. Each member’s response contains valuable insights into Elder feelings and attitudes. There are some commonalities in the responses, e.g. many of the 15 respondents cited climate change as something they considered very important, but many respondents also had unique concerns or interests. Both sets of issues – common and unique – contain valuable lessons for consideration by the Suzuki Elder executive and working groups.

All the information from the survey are shown below, edited for brevity and for occasional duplication. I favoured comments which addressed the open questions.

So…. please read on.

Who are we?

  • I’m a retired journalist.
  • I’m a 76 year old widower whose heart is in the right place (I think) with regard to things environmental.
  • I am retired, living on a small farm in Ladysmith with my wife. We drive a fully electric car, have solar panels on our house and produce about 6 large garbage bags of trash per year (yes, per year).
  • I am a semi-retired ecologist working on biochar production and use as a carbon neutral energy source for low income families.
  • I am from Pune, India. I am 67, healthy, active, a graduate in Mechanical Engineering and Business Management, and with over 45 years experience in high tech manufacturing and marketing.
  • I am a full-time writer and singer. My book Becoming Intimate with the Earth is a guide to healing our relationship with our planetary home. I also give workshops based on that book.
  • I was on the founding team of Bowen in Transition, and believe that the Transition Town network is a model of positive change that we could support.
  • I am a retired teacher of 31 years who has lived, worked or travelled in every province and territory in Canada.
  • I guess you could call me an environmental strategist, a big picture- and long term thinker. I am also a coach, group facilitator, discussion leader, and interested in the development of consciousness.

What motivates us?

  • I care deeply about what we are doing in our industrialized culture because of our destructive ways, overconsumption, pollution, fossil fuel dependence and flawed democracies, BUT I’m excited by the many creative and courageous ways individuals and groups are standing up, joining together and stopping the juggernaut.
  • I think we have to as a society get serious about reducing our footprint on the earth, and especially what we spew into the atmosphere. To do that I think we have to reorient our society and our economy towards sustainability, not using up resources we cannot replace.
  • My lifestyle is modest and I think careful with regard to environmental impacts, responsible purchases etc. I am pleased that similar values have been passed down to my two sons who have similar concerns and hopefully they are also being passed down to my 8-year old grandson. I consider this chain of thinking and lifestyle to be essential if we are to have any chance of controlling the increasing degradation. However if this cannot be done within the family for whatever reasons then there remains the opportunity for the Elders to fill the gap.
  • The greater participation of youth in the recent election provides some hope and the inclusion of wider healthy Canadian views at the Paris Conference is a step in the right direction.
  • It is hoped that it can be shown to the world that actions to reduce/minimize climate change can not only be beneficial but cost-effective
  • There are $15 billion worth of industrial projects gearing up for the small narrow fjord of Howe Sound, a continuation of an extractive ideology that has existed here since the fur trade. Our colonial attitude supports these projects, some of them in First Nations’ territories
  • Since joining the Suzuki Elders, I’ve come to understand how and why the planet came to be in crisis and what lies in store if we, as a species, fail to change direction. I see decades or even centuries of uncomfortable transition looming ahead.
  • I am more and more concerned about the environmental impacts of our western way of life, its unsustainability and the implications for social justice, equality and the well-being of women and girls.
  • Two issues that concern me currently are the refugee crisis and global warming, and I think that they will affect each other.

What frustrates us?

  • Its not an easy task when the multinationals call so many of the shots and governments become beholden to them.
  • Until the social and economic effects of climate change become abundantly apparent I don’t think that the world will really move. The current mass movements (due to war, lack of food, water and jobs) from the Middle East and Africa are only the beginning and we don’t seem to know what to do about it.
  • I have attended interest groups to find a more positive outlook, but it doesn’t work for me. Over the last few years I have tended to become more of an observer as we continue to continue.
  • I am not technically knowledgeable enough to judge the possibility of proposed schemes for slowing the process [of climate change, of environmental degradation].
  • I’m somewhat confused about the organization. As a newcomer it is very difficult to know where I ‘fit’ or how I can contribute. It seems a somewhat closed circle or circles with a small number doing most of the work.
  • I have no idea how the Elders could best make use of my skills. I feel very disconnected from this entity.

Where do we see ourselves headed in the next decades?

The optimists:
  • Although I’m eventually headed towards the grave, my children will most likely continue to be Canadians, working to sustain themselves, being socially responsible and living in B.C.
  • I have had successes, both individually and in small groups, with building community and resilience, emergency preparedness, and improving food security.
  • There are numerous organizations, in addition to the Suzuki Elders, which offer opportunities for involvement, personal work, and helping others do the same. Examples include Village Vancouver, local Green Teams, Leadnow, and the Leap Manifesto groups.
  • I see the last few years of my life dedicated to doing my part in making this world a better place for Canadians to live in. I see myself doing presentations in many communities and in many provinces and territories. My priorities are my family, friends, community, and society in general.
  • I am in the final quarter of my life, at a time when I am looking far forward to the next generations of humanity and seeing that if we don’t change dramatically and quickly there will be immense suffering, not only for my family, community and country but for the whole world.
The pessimists:
  • My feelings about our future are quite negative. Climate change concerns me the most.
  • We understood climate change was a real possibility since the early 1970’s, and yet we have done our best as a society to continue on our carbon consuming ways. I would be really surprised if we can turn this around, but as a biologist I’m not sure we should. It’s just another blip in the story of this old Earth.
  • Looking far forward to the next generations of humanity I see that if we don’t change dramatically and quickly there will be immense suffering, not only for my family, community and country but for the whole world.
The pragmatists:
  • What we need most is a change in consciousness, a broader way of seeing the world as one unit, each of our choices influencing all the rest. This is the work I am interested in doing and the contribution I think I can make with the time I have.
  • The Limits to Growth [updated 2005] reminds us that we all see the world’s problems differently. “In general the larger the space and the longer the time associated with a problem, the smaller the number of people who are actually concerned with its solution.”

We are strong advocates for change

  • The [recent] Canadian election was very important for me. We have to pressure the new government very hard to ensure that Canada can still pull back from the precipice towards which the previous government had us teetering. This requires massive, collective and immediate actions on multiple fronts. Now is not the time for philosophical debates, conversations about definitions and nuances, and more studies and reports. We must all act in our many different ways, and all must help.

What future pathways shall we follow?

  • Many of us subscribe to the conclusions of the world’s intellectual leadership as set out in The Limits to Growth [updated 2005] and elsewhere .

–   It is possible to alter growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future.

–   The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his individual human potential.

–   Humanity has the capacity for adaptation which will be essential regardless of how well we manage in this century.

–   There is evidence of social adjustment to our changing times. The Millennial Generation buy fewer homes or cars, delay having children, and invest more in education. The sharing economy, with its underpinning culture of reciprocity, is growing rapidly.

–   Many countries are moving to sustainable energy sources.

  • The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that it’s possible to make money in a way that is not destructive, that promotes more social justice and more understanding and lessens the suffering that exists all around us. He believes this can only happen if we fall in love with our planet and see ourselves as part of it, a message promoted so well by David Suzuki who tells us, “We are the air… we are the environment… When we damage the environment, we damage ourselves.”
  • The greater participation of youth in the recent Canadian election provides hope, and the inclusion of wider healthy Canadian views at the Paris Conference is a step in the right direction.

Are we effective in using our combined skill sets to meet our goals?

  • I am best in assisting others communicate their messages and in facilitating the work of members of the organization.
  • My skills are researching, writing, singing, planting fruit trees, and presenting workshops.
  • I am part of the Education and Community Outreach group and feel like this is a good fit; working on Food Security, and Resilience.
  • We could best use our skills to achieve our goals by getting into the schools – working with the environmental and outdoor education clubs, courses, associations, etc.
  • I think we are on the right track dealing with a number of issues related to sustainability, not only opposing non-sustainable projects but also promoting psychological resilience, work with youth, education of ourselves and the public, and general support for the David Suzuki Foundation.
  • What we need most is a change in consciousness, a broader way of seeing the world as one unit, each of our choices influencing all the rest. This is the work I am interested in doing and the contribution I think I can make with the time I have.
Or maybe not
  • I was shocked to learn that there are only some 100 Suzuki Elder members – I would have thought there should be at least 500,000, given there are 5 million Canadians over 65 as of 2011 and 60% of Canadians are reported to believe climate change is real and human activity is an exacerbating cause.
  • This survey seems so old-fashioned and inadequate. [A better approach] would have been some kind of engagement process where the participants themselves could create the recommendations and where the outcome would be a result of the interdependencies and connections that a group of people can generate, rather than all these single responses that some person has to read and through their own very personal lenses and biases extract what they think is important.
  • [This survey] could have been done online or using other media rather than assuming that it has to be in person.

What are we missing?

  • The major challenge facing our world is the one that no one is willing to discuss: over-population. It does not matter much about climate change, pollution, loss of habitat, etc as long as we continue to increase the world population. We are not going to survive. No other species can grow indefinitely, but humans seem to believe they can.
  • I would like the Suzuki Elders to focus on educating the public in opposing international trade agreements such as the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These proposed agreements would put international trade in the hands of the multi-national corporations, especially the CEOs.
  • I believe the Elders should get MUCH better at collaborating with others, at various levels. We should also harness the potential of technology more effectively.
  • I wonder about putting more emphasis on human connection in small groups of face-to-face dialogue. Consciousness development is an inside-out activity and can be most powerful in direct interaction.
  • As a newcomer to the Suzuki Elders it is very difficult to know where I fit or how I can contribute. It seems a somewhat closed circle or circles, with a small number doing most of the work.
  • Using the label ‘Suzuki Elders’ is not as effective in communicating to people around the world who we are as ‘David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) Elders.’ The Suzuki name immediately brings to mind motor bikes and cars, not a renowned environmentalist from Canada. As ‘DSF Elders’ we will be able to connect and communicate better, encouraging people to learn more about the views and work of the David Suzuki Foundation.
  • Those living outside the lower Mainland could contribute to the Suzuki Elder blog and report on local meetings or rallies. Our website could include materials for hosting local meetings on specific topics (the “What Moves Me” youth discussion handout is a specific example).
  • An important role for all of us is to fight public indifference and drive home the message that we need to do what we can. Showing up, standing up, and supporting policy for change to a more sustainable and equitable society are something we can all do.
  • We could best use our skills by joining and presenting at conferences like the Council of Outdoor Educators Association (COEO) or the Science Teachers Association of Ontario (STAO).
  • We tend generally to preach to the converted.

What’s the next step?

  • The specific concerns raised by Elders responding to this survey and itemized variously above will be laid before the Suzuki Elder Council for review and action.
  • Relevant items brought up by respondents will be referred to the various Working Groups for their information and action.

We need to keep the conversation going

  • Dialogue between and within the Elder membership is the basic tool we have to progress towards our goals.
  • We all prefer personal face-to-face communication and, wherever possible, that’s the approach we employ – in individual conversations, in working group meetings, in council meetings, in seminars and the like.
  • We may not have started out there but we’re now very much in the technological age where information speeds around the world at the speed of light. The communication tools are there for us to employ to our full advantage.
  • We invite all Elders to carry on the conversation.

–   Check the many items on our website and use the Leave a Comment link attached every post on the blog to add to the opinions expressed there.

–   Consider participating in the Suzuki Elders Google Group which is an online bulletin board where Elders can express and exchange news and opinions. If you’re not yet a member of the Group contact the moderator at this link and request a sign-up.

–   Contact us directly at this link to ask a question, to clarify something or just to express your opinion.



Elders of quality

by Stan Hirst

global-village-avatarsWhat are the qualities of an Elder?

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.





The Elder image

by Stan Hirst

I’ve come to expect very little from the film industry in their portrayal of elders on the silver screen.  They usually fall back on us only when they need a little comic relief or a brief moment of tear-jerking. But, just once in a while, an elder might be depicted in a more meaningful role.  The past year has left us with a mixed bag of elder imagery which deserves mention.

NEBRASKAIn Nebraska, the best film of the year (in my humble elder opinion), the main character is Woody Grant, an ornery old soak from Billings, Montana. As the film starts, Woody is seen walking along the freeway on his way to Lincoln, Nebraska (800 miles) to collect a million dollars from Publishers Clearing House. That immediately tells us where Woody is at.

The reason why I find this movie so moving and, at the same time, so disconcerting, is that it is absolutely true to life in its character depiction. I lived in the American heartland for a few years and those folks are exactly as depicted. Case in point – a group of senior men in Hawthorne, Nebraska, sit in the living room after Sunday lunch. All wear plaid shirts and all stare fixedly at a football game on TV. Occasionally two of them, without looking at one another, will converse in monosyllables about the cars they owned back in ’79. Another typical event – Woody hobbles into an auto shop he once owned for 25 years and asks the Hispanic mechanics if they know where Ed Pegram is. Ed was Woody’s former partner in the business. The mechanics have no idea who or where Ed Pegram is. Woody then heads for the battered tavern one block down the street, and the first person he meets at the bar is ….. Ed Pegram.

I found myself searching the Woody character, without much success, for something Elderly (capital “E”), something to offset his crankiness and his detachment from society, something to make it seem all worthwhile in the end, but to no avail. He had served his country in Korea in the 50’s, and maybe that was where he lost his connections.

The underlying thing about the movie that weighs on me is that I don’t really have to go to the flicks to see a character like Woody. There are clones of him on all the streets and in the malls buying lottery tickets right here in Vancouver.

Quartet-Tom-Courtenay-and-Maggie-SmithThe award-winning movie Quartet gave me a little more glimmer of hope for Elder values.

Reg, Wilf, Jean and Cissy are retired former opera singers living in Beecham House, a retirement home for gifted musicians. Whatever they were in previous lives, they’re very human at Beecham House. Jean is catty, vain and difficult to deal with, Cissy is starting to lose it and often goes walkabout, Reg is a curmudgeon who yells obscenities at the French maid for giving him apricot jam instead of marmalade at breakfast. Wilf is a classic senior – hides a bottle of scotch in the greenhouse and wees behind the shrubbery when he thinks nobody is watching.

The four were once part of a popular quartet famous for the best post-war recording of bella figlia dell’amore from Rigoletto. In the final scene they get their act together and sing the aria magnificently at a fund-raiser at Beecham House. That’s the Elder thing to do of course – retain one’s skills honed over the years for effective use later in life when the situation requires it.

HBT-025881r.jpgThere is indeed a first-class Elder currently on display at the movies – Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. He can’t go wrong with that beard, that hat and that mellifluous voice just oozing wisdom. He is the quintessential mentor and more. When the going gets tough and the situation is waist-high in orcs, Gandalf has the moxie to hack his way out with his trusty sword or else he just summons up Gwahir the eagle for aerial evacuation. Clearly this is the mode we Elders all need to be in.

The only problem here is that Gandalf exists only in Middle Earth and in the fertile imagination of J.R. Tolkien. I’ve never met anyone even remotely close to his character. I will admit that a British lady, a member of the International Group in Lesotho, used to call me Gandalf. She was usually on her third gin and tonic at that stage.

Just when I was about to give up the search, I remembered one of the best and most believable Elder portrayals on film in the past year – Evelyn Greenslade in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Evelyn is a newly widowed housewife whose house in the U.K. had to be sold off to pay off her husband’s debts. Her twit of a son wants to “care” for her, without her input, but she elects instead to take the plunge and heads for Jaipur, India to live in a shambolic hotel for elderly expatriates. She finds a new, wholly unexpected and very challenging life, but she blossoms in the face of the adversities. Evelyn lands a job teaching English communication skills to an Indian call centre. She shares her activities through her blog, and happens to coin the best phrase of the movie “We get up in the morning, we do our best“. She also comes up with classically Elder snippets of basic wisdom which linger long after the movie has ended.IMG_8314.CR2

“Initially you’re overwhelmed, but gradually you realize it’s like a wave. Resist, and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it and you’ll swim out the other side.”

“The only real failure is the failure to try, and the measure of success is how we cope with disappointment.”

“But it’s also true that the person who risks nothing, does nothing and has nothing. All we know about the future is that it will be different. But perhaps what we fear is that it will be the same. So we must celebrate the changes.”

Elders (still) in search of a cause

Stan Hirst writes :-MK-BV1

Just three years ago in this blog we reflected on our origins.  We had originally come together as a small group of seniors in the B.C. Lower Mainland, appalled at the deteriorating state of our planet, and seeking some way to help in the repair and restoration. We lamented the disappearance of the once unfilled spaces of our youth under masses of disposed and industrial wastes, sprawling cities and mega-housed suburbs. We deplored avoidable environmental disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and impending disasters such as trans-provincial oil pipelines carrying bitumen to our ecologically fragile coast. We were apprehensive of the massive ecological global impacts starting to become evident as greenhouse gas emissions from our vehicles, homes and industries added incessantly to the Earth’s climatic carbon load. We chafed at the lack of environmental awareness on the part of our national and international politicians who seemed unable or unwilling to take on the difficult tasks of grappling with the real issues.

As we wrote then, it was a realization of what we were losing that brought us as elders together in the first place. The David Suzuki Foundation offered us a home and some friendly words of advice, but told us we would have to make our own way and sort it all out for ourselves. So we sit talking, preaching and harrumphing, as elders are wont to do. We write the odd declaration to tell the world that things are in a great mess and that we don’t like it. We debate structure and function and constitutions. What we really need to do, but have so far taken only baby steps to implement, is actually remedying the situation.

Phillip Hewett writes –PICS Patricia and David, Feb 2013

Who gave us the right to call ourselves Elders?  The short answer is that it was David Suzuki — that’s why his name is in our title.  In his words:  “When we started the David Suzuki Foundation one of the first things we did was to ask a group of elders to come and be a Council of Elders for the Foundation.  My idea was that it would be like the role of elders in indigenous communities.”  He had already described that role at some length in a book he co-authored in the same period.

Perhaps the key sentences are those in which he says of this approach: “It tends to honor as its most esteemed elders those individuals who have experienced a profound and compassionate reconciliation of outer- and inner-directed knowledge, rather than virtually anyone who has made material achievement or simply survived to chronological old age.  It tends to reveal a profound sense of empathy and kinship with other forms of life, rather than a sense of separateness from them or superiority over them… it tends to view the proper human relationship with nature as a continuous dialogue ( that is, a two-way, horizontal communication between Homo sapiens and other elements of the cosmos) rather than as a monologue (a one-way vertical imperative).  Within Native worldviews, the parts and processes of the universe are, to varying degrees, holy; to science, they can only be secular.”

Thus the establishment of the Council of Elders (later renamed to the Suzuki Elders) on this model was intended as a holistic counter-balance to the science- based work of the Foundation.  We did spend some time in working to express a spiritual world-view to motivate efforts towards a sustainable future for our planet. We drew up a motion to the Foundation’s Board which said “Ethical concerns and spiritual insights … can sustain practical endeavours when other motivations cannot stand up to the disappointments and frustrations inseparable from work to restore ecological integrity. ‘Burnout’ is a perennial problem that can only be avoided by this deeply rooted spiritual awareness.” This was presented to the Board and approved, but never adequately followed up.  It remains unfinished business.  In particular, we made only half-hearted attempts at dialogue with aboriginal elders on this theme, on which there could obviously be a basis for concerted action.

In summary, what we need is not to stop calling ourselves Elders but to do more to deserve that title!

Marks McAvity writes –

We are entering a brave new world with a new kind of elder culture. If the community does not call us, then we do indeed call ourselves. We have grown up too much with false humility. We do have wisdom. Are we one hundred percent wise? Of course not. Are we conceited? I don’t think so. We simply have something to say. As one First Nations elder once said – it is elders that SPEAK- and we are pretty good at that.  I believe that, some day, people will listen. It will be an elder version of these “square” revolts around the world, but without the violence.

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