Preparing for Eldership

I have been thinking a lot lately about preparing for eldership. This has been catalyzed by a gathering I was invited to attend last year, initiated by Peter Block, John McKnight, Dick Axelrod, Angeles Arrien and a few others.


The gathering was convened to explore topics of mutual interest, including community building and OD design. The event itself morphed into an exploration of individual and collective interests and what possibility existed for an ongoing dialogue by the group.


What piqued my interest was the topic of eldership itself and how one prepares for the inevitable encounter with "senior citizenship."


What I have realized is that there isn't really a curriculum for eldership in our culture. We seem to have ignored the possibility that there is another alternative to ageing besides becoming irrelevent...or worse a cartoon version of ourselves. The popular media is full of them-the old coot, the cougar, the eccentric, the old maid.


Maybe, just maybe, there is another road to travel the last third of our lives: the Wisdom Road.


I have been looking at a number of traditions and the guidelines for eldership that they provide as alternative models. I offer one that I particularly like from the Elder’s Handbook:




Elders are seen as very wise individuals that have the ability to utilize their personal and collective knowledge, experience, common sense, and insight.




Elders demonstrate genuine honesty and sincerity, free from deceit or fraud.




Like many older people, Elders have an abundance of patience. True to the Aboriginal worldview regarding time, Elders do not exhibit restlessness or annoyance when confronted with what others may perceive as delay.




Elders are humble. They are modest, courteous and respectful to all Creation. They do not exhibit pride or arrogance.




Elders are seen by their community as people whom are worthy of trust or belief, and are seen as people who will take responsibility for their own conduct and obligations.


Life-Long Dedication to the Holistic Well-Being of the Community


Elders are seen by the community as selfless persons who dedicate their lives to the health and well- being of all of Creation. Their dedication is towards all aspects of life – spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual – for all persons, beings and things.


Life-long Dedication to Learning


Elders dedicate themselves to the well-being of others and see themselves as instruments of the Creator. Elders recognize that they must always continue learning, not only from other Elders and the past, but also from their current situation and events to come which may affect people’s lives.


Perception of their Role in Life


Elders understand their role in life, and acknowledge the special qualities and characteristics inherent in their role for themselves and for other Elders.




Elders use well-developed communication and story-telling skills to fulfill their roles in a community. Tactful communication skills are necessary for a person to provide “Elders’ advice.” This allows the recipient of the advice to see and understand the situation in such a way that they make their own decisions on a particular matter. As a result, the person demonstrates ownership of their decision and the subsequent results, thereby increasing the probability of success.


Openness and Acceptance


True to their other qualities, Elders are genuinely accepting of the perspectives of others, and will not attempt to persuade others of their own personal views.


–Northern Ontario School of Medicine


© Patrick O’Neill 2010. All rights reserved.

Posted on December 7, 2010 and filed under Uncategorized.