Becoming an elder, not elderly

The term elderly is a derogatory description in our modern, western, fast paced society. We associate the term elder with tribal communities; yet, even in some parts of tribal Africa we hear stories of those who call themselves elders acting without wisdom. Wise elders are respected and acknowledged by their communities; they do not inherit the title or claim the right of it when they reach a certain age. We need to rediscover true eldership before we lose the role altogether.


Wisdom is a character trait that we should all aspire to achieve by the time we are in our 50’s. Combine intuition, judgment and compassion and overlay them on knowledge and experience to create wisdom; it is the ability to do the right thing in the situation for the right reasons. Wisdom leaves ego behind. Wisdom is about what is good for all of us. Elders have wisdom and embody another key element; altruism with a long view. Supporting the creation of a better tomorrow for everyone with no personal gain for themselves; the ultimate in contribution.

walnut01Looking towards the future

Trevor Waldock describes the long journey to eldership in his book ‘To plant a walnut tree’. In it, he describes his search for the holy grail of wisdom and eldership. Planting a walnut tree is the least selfish thing that a person can do because you will not experience the fruit before you die – you do it for future generations. In a similar way, elders make decisions and take action with future generations in mind rather than for their own personal gain.

Wouldn’t you like to live in a world where there are people who are able to think and act for the future of all of us? You may have read that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are part of a world wide group called ‘the elders’. These well known individuals are working together on world issues to try to add wise leadership to an otherwise partisan group of world leaders. They are able to influence even though they don’t have positions of power; they have the power of respect.

Very few people are in a position to take to the world stage like this group of elders; however, there is an even greater need for ‘grass roots’ elders in our communities. We need to recognise those who already exist. We also need to focus on developing new elders for the future through encouraging an understanding of wisdom with an aspiration to develop it.

In the meantime, Trevor Waldock’s book is great to read. My review of the book is on Amazon.


By Janis Grummitt – Workplace Wisdom

Janis is the founder of the Wise Society movement. She also runs workshops on building wisdom and improving thinking.

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