What will you leave behind?
BY CHIP CONLEY
“There is nothing inherently ennobling about aging. Nothing. There’s no sign that anything lends old people steadiness or wisdom or magic from on high or from down below. If we don’t train young people and middle-aged people in elderhood, we will have no elderhood…The day will surely dawn when young people will come to you—as they have begun to come to me—and ask what you did about the troubles, and whether you knew how bad it was, or whether you handed over to them a diminished world with a shrug of compassion fatigue and a vacant wish of good luck, or whether you stood up for them. Until that day, you and I are—and we must be elders in training.”
– Stephen Jenkinson, “Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble”
We all become older. If we put our minds and hearts into it, some of us might become elders. And by elder, I don’t mean someone who dispenses wisdom to young people sitting at their feet, but a modern elder, who is as much of a wisdom seeker as she is a wisdom keeper.
As we age, our role is not to share war stories of times long since passed but to be a collaborative problem solver with other generations, whether the problem is the climate crisis, social and financial inequity, the risks of artificial intelligence and big tech, or just the need for more parks for school children in your neighborhood.
“I don’t mean someone who dispenses wisdom to young people sitting at their feet, but a modern elder, who is as much of a wisdom seeker as she is a wisdom keeper.”
Long ago, after World War II and the Korean War, there was a saying, “What did you do in the war, Daddy?” In other words, what did you do to make the world safe? What was your contribution? Your kids, grandkids, or, if you’re lucky, great-grandkids may ask you the same question about your role in addressing some of the gnarly societal problems that may have catastrophic effects on future generations. What will your answer be?
To paraphrase Erik Erikson, “you are what survives you.”
Chip Conley is the founder of MEA – The Modern Elder Academy