Tag Archives: elders
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.
We 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.
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.
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 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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
– 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.
by Diana Ellis
The Suzuki Elders are a voluntary group of self-identified elders working with, and through, the David Suzuki Foundation. At the core of the Suzuki Elders purpose statement is this: “We mentor, encourage and support other elders and the younger generations in dialogue and action on the environment.” For the past three years we’ve put considerable energy into making specific links with youth.
We’ve learned a few things along the way – about working with youth, and about our role as Suzuki Elders in engaging with them.
Our Elder experience in the HOW of working WITH youth
“With” is the key word here.
First – we go to where youth are – Facebook, social media, their marches, conferences, workshops. We show up. That’s where we start to make the connections and linkages. And we follow up – be a friend on Facebook, read what they are doing and reporting, keep in touch. We look for one or two youth who really want to work with us and connect firmly with them. They always know others, and that’s how the team grows.
Youth tell us that, for many, the reason for getting involved in environmental and other social justice issues is first about getting connected with others, being in community with friends, being social. So we make sure our time together offers those opportunities.
We know that, developmentally, age 16 (Grade 10 in Canada) is typically the time when many young people start thinking more about the outside world, about social justice, about personal action. We connect with that age group and stay linked with them as they move through Grades 11 and 12, while consistently cultivating new contacts at the Grade 10 level.
When setting up discussion groups with youth and elders, we find small groups work best, i.e. small groups of 3-5. As nervy and brave as some youth are, there are many others still working to find their own voice and that is usually best found in a small group setting. We elders remember how powerful those moments of personal voice-finding are, so we build small group opportunities into workshops, conference and seminars.
We remember that younger people have different learning preferences and take that into account in our planning.
“I don’t want to go to workshops where someone stands up and talks for an hour, and then I have to go home and remember what was said. I want to talk, to interact, to have some hands on experience – to be able to go home with some tangible learning” (Youth workshop attendee).
Timing is important. Youth are in school during the day and many of them work on the weekends. What works best for elder/youth meetings are those scheduled for late afternoon/after school or early evening meetings, or Sundays. We’ve done it all.
Food works! Snacks disappear! Share a light dinner for an after-school or early evening meeting. Plan a Saturday morning brainstorming session with juice, fruit, cheese.
Respect works! Youth emphatically ask us not to put down or make light of their use of social media. Social media is their way, they are very comfortable in that realm and it works. Further to that, Suzuki Elders ask for and accept youth’s help with social media, technology, websites etc. They know so much more than we do.
Support works! We support the environmental action that youth are already taking on. We tell them “we have your backs.” We elders do not, ever, wag our fingers and say youth should do their environmental activities differently, that what they are thinking is wrong-headed or not enough.
“I think that environmentalism needs to be seen as necessary and enriching, not just a duty. Unless we think of it that way there’ll be just a small group of people working on it” (Youth retreat participant).
“I think there’s a stigma around the term environmentalism – I prefer the term sustainability” (Youth retreat participant).
Listening works! We’ve learned to listen first, listen second, listen third. Probe with care. Listen again.
What we’ve learned about our own role as elders working with youth
Suzuki Elders ask ourselves: “What is our reason for working with youth on any given project or initiative?” Does it fit with our purpose to motivate, encourage and support?
When working with youth we quell our own personal desires to be heard out there in the public world because in this case we aren’t looking for the podium for ourselves, we are reaching out to bridge the generational divide. If we are audacious enough to think we should speak on behalf of children and youth, we question what our motivation is in doing so. Is it because we can sometimes reach an audience they cannot? Is this useful? And does what we say reflect how youth feel?
We’ve learned that our work with youth is not about us, it is about them. What elders bring to the table is our story, and our ability to reflect on and describe what we call “the long view.”
We’ve learned that youth do want to hear our stories – about our lives and what we’ve done – and those “long view” reflections. We’ve learned that these stories are best shared in some activity and context. For example, when organizing a workshop together, we don’t say how something should be done, instead, we might tell an “I remember when…” story. Teachable moments are not always obvious, in fact, perhaps the best teachable moments are the ones we never realized were teachable. However, we’ve also learned our longer experience in planning and evaluation can be brought forward in the detail work…the “don’t forget about” list. We usually offer some assistance in making that list!
Importantly, as elders, we remember to be patient. Youth are busy and often preoccupied with other interests, not the least of which is their own schooling. They may not respond to our e-mails as quickly as needed. Sometimes consistent patient elder prompting is required.
Our Suzuki Elder work with youth is to mentor, support and encourage. We remind ourselves that as elders we are not their (school) teachers, we are not their parents, in most cases, we are not even their grandparents. We don’t teach, we don’t direct, we don’t chastise, we don’t even hold out expectations.
“I want a way to think about things, rather than what to think…” (Youth planning session participant).
We remind ourselves of the truism that no one can empower anyone else. People can only empower themselves. What we can do as elders is help create opportunities for youth to empower themselves.
What we’ve learned about youth from working with them
Youth are fearless in the way we were fearless when we were younger. It is powerful stuff.
“In terms of doing something (about the environment) I thought, “If not me, who else will do it?” (Youth roundtable discussant)
“By Grade 10 I was going to rallies, doing flash mobs. Then I began to realize how important politics is to change. I got involved in a youth action group and made a film on climate action.” (Youth retreat participant).
The youth we work with on environment and sustainability matters are bright and quick. They know a lot about this topic, and from angles that often differ from ours. Outside the box thinking! It is exciting to go there with them.
“I have always found the root of the problems of the world as the environment – I want people to see the inter-relationship of social justice and the environment” (Youth retreat participant.)
And, we are mindful of our different realities because of age.
“The future is mine … not yours…” (Youth retreat participant).
Dealing with hope, fear and despair
The youth we engage with on environment and sustainability always want to talk about hope – usually first. We find that closing any discussions, conferences, workshops and talks on a theme of practical hopefulness is more likely to lead to action, to personal commitment, as well as to gaining a sense of comfort and inclusion.
Fears emerge further on, sometimes with gentle prompting. The times when youth confide their fears about the future to us are important – and moving – moments of discussion.
“I feel hopeful when I see lots of people marching in the street – makes me know there are others working on this and makes me feel less alone.” (Youth in small group discussion).
“I am actually scared about the future – scared we won’t have enough time to fix this…but when I attend events like this I get hopeful.” (Youth conference attendee)
“My fears are that the issues will disempower us” (Youth discussion group participant).
“I feel like we, the youth of today, have lots of worries already. Adding one other worry regarding the environment is an EXTRA – and youth don’t have the (personal) resources to deal with that extra worry” (Youth retreat participant).
Indeed, just like adults, some youth do not have the resources to deal with extra worries, or their resources are fragile. We know of young people depressed about the future – some even in despair. This concerns us deeply, and makes us review the way we, as Suzuki Elders, talk with youth about the environment, sustainability, the way ahead and adaptation.
We know reality must be acknowledged, that we cannot easily paint a rosy picture of the future. While we believe it is an elder’s responsibility to speak truth, we frame these discussions in a way that does not leave people, especially the young, without hope. One of our Suzuki Elders said recently, “It is not so much about what we say, but how well we listen (to youth).” Another noted that “by our own example, we show there is hopefulness in action.”
We elders know from our life experience in other movements – peace, anti-poverty, civil rights, women’s, anti-nuclear – that every effort counts, be it small or large, individual or collective. What we say to youth, and all, is simply this – that every day, we can each do everything we can, to move the environmental and sustainability agenda forward.
What youth and elders get from intergenerational environmental work together
For Youth: because Suzuki Elders ask youth for their perspective, working with us has provided them with an opportunity to practice, to test themselves, to show leadership, to get on the podium, to shine. Because we have worked with them, we are able, when asked, to provide letters of reference. Perhaps most importantly, youth know that we will listen and hear them….and that we have their backs.
For Suzuki Elders: we are reminded of the richness and privilege of working with the younger generation. Our knowledge and skills are valued by them and this valuation is as important for we elders as it is for youth. The technical support youth share with us is needed and useful. Finally, and this is no small thing – from the commitment and curiousity of youth we elders receive infusions of hope and inspiration.
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.