Elders to the World

MD: Nadya, last night I watched “American Factory”, a documentary hosted by the Obamas. It tells of a General Motors factory that went out of business and was bought by a Chinese company. The American workers lost jobs and those that remained worked twice as hard for half the money. All I could do was sigh and wonder about the wise response of the elder. I feel helpless, a dangerous place to be.

NG: My first response is grief. We really thought we would be leaving a very different world to our children and grandchildren than the one we’re experiencing today. So we simply have to express that grief. And, then we can allow that feeling to give rise to the awareness that we still have important work to do. We can still make a difference. Let’s not forget that the 8th Step in our book is about “serving as an elder, as a guide, mentor, agent of healing and reconciliation on behalf of the planet, nation and family”.

MD: Thank you for echoing the center of my heart. Sometimes when I’m with young people, I want to ignore the grief and talk about anything other than this moment in time. I’ve had spirited conversations with my grandchildren about the 2020 elections. I tell them to work for whomever they like, not simply to talk about it. What else can we do?

NG: Our greatest role now is as mentor, which begins with respectful listening, and then gives us the opening to encourage, inspire and guide their work in the world. Some of us may also be called to action – there are Elder Activists out there, and they are an inspiration and model to the younger generations.

MD: It’s the inner work that I need to do so often: to keep hope for the future. Then I don’t need to hide the surface feelings of anxiety. I try to remember to walk humbly in my despair and attend local meetings concerning government. Reb Zalman taught us to be the “eco-wardens”, because the elder has time to be the activist for the natural world.

NG: Remember that activism takes many forms. As elders we have varying degrees of energy and capacity. Some of us are still on the front lines of demonstrations and others are listening carefully to what their children and grandchildren long for and helping them find ways to make their dreams come true. We can work behind the lines and have just as much influence. Don’t despair about how much you can do. Just do it.

MD: You’re so right. Elders are agents of healing and reconciliation. When the world makes us feel small and powerless, Reb Zalman’s playful exercise where we imagine ourselves speaking before global leaders invigorates us. We can tell them what our families, cities, country, and world need. After we step off the cosmic soapbox, our words bring us clarity. Maybe we’re ready to storm the White House or at the least write a letter to a local official about your greatest concerns. An elder knows that the world depends upon each of us.