I’ve been working on a paper/essay about the notion of elders and I’m curious what people here think about it.
I take it you’re not talking about the Elder tree…
Elder people in my opinion are always worth listening to, but don’t necessarily have to be obeyed outright. That’s all I can say of them really.
Maybe I should ask some more specific questions…
How do you define Elder?
How do you see the Elder cultural tool as it relates to Rewilding?
Where do you draw the line between an Elder and a younger person? In other words, at what point does someone “become” an elder?
I have always cultivated older friends for the express purpose of having a group of “Elders” that I could consult in times of need. I still have a small circle of age 50+ friends that I talk to about tough problems.
I personally like older people. THey have a wealth of experience to draw on, and the age makes them more thoughtful and less rash.
But, I don’t respect anyone just b/c they are old. I respect them for their wisdom and intelligence.
I like the notion of elders, and think alot of us younger folks are kinda screwed by the current “fuck your elders, they don’t no shit” attitude that is propogated. I certainly like being able to go to my father or my oldest(in age) friend Robert for advice. i feel sorry for people who don’t have an elder or three to consult.
and your specific questions
Someone over the age of 45(not that important) whom has repeatedly demonstrated competence in a given field of endeavor and are generally “healthy, wealthy, and wise” however you want to reckon it.
As a cultural tool, Elders are people who have walked these paths before, and have wisdom to share about a given endeavor, as well as general life experience.
3.This is a tough one. for a partial answer, see #1. But, I give preference to competence over age. Example: I consider TonyZ my elder in the field of mycology. He has repeatedly demonstrated advanced knowledge of fungi and it’s uses, and is a storehouse of general mycological foraging information. That said, he is 3 years younger than me.
I hope this helps.
I was planting potatoes at the community garden a month ago, and a 70 year old woman was asking me questions about all the plants around - clueless as to what/who they were; she said the only plant she could identify might be parsley. I thought about it later and it really struck me that she is fifty years older than me, but is still an infant in her relationship w/ the land where she lives. So is she my elder? I don’t think so. I think my elders are those who have known and been awake to the earth longer than me, have learned many lessons and have many to teach. True this woman had seen civilization grow hugely in her lifetime and had some accumulated knowledge - maybe i dont want to be a part of civilization so i wont accept the half assed ‘elders’ it produces.
So yeah, i agree - a ten year old boy that could make his own bow, stalk and kill deer w/ it, would be my elder.
As far as elders=elderly:
Elders can be distingished by their tendency to tell long rambling stories about the time they took the train to new york or the time sadie the dog got into a fight or they had a horse named king, who was a good horse. To an elder just about anything they can remember that happened more than 50 years ago is good enough material for a story. They also are rarely in a hurry. I notice that the sheer speed of my walking and my skipping off of curbs and skittering across streets tends to startle elders and stop them in their tracks, they look at me either with wide surprised eyes or as if my speed is personally offensive. The kitchens of elders smell different. Like broccoli or sauerkraut. They also don’t like to waste things which can be positive or negative. A lot of the junk they store does come in handy but I do hate being made to eat everything on my plate.
I think storytelling and slowness and thriftiness are great traits, but I don’t particularly like my elders. You get a few that liberal minded but over all they tend to think I’m lazy, poorly dressed, rude, slutty, etc. Many are racist and here in PA the older hunters remember the times when they would see 100 deer in a day and they lobby heavily to get them back despite the fact that those deer decimated the vegetation in forests. I don’t think my grandparents know much of anything about primitive skills or even homesteading skills. They grew up with toasters and acrylic yarn.
Now my friend Jake’s grandparents live on a farm and they are pretty cool. They save their deer hides and get them tanned (albeit chemically), they make maple syrup, and keep cows and horses, and have a whole room upstairs devoted to bullet making.
Elders have been young, young people have not been old.
I love my elders, when they can deign to find the time to perform the function. I had not father, and my maternal grandfather was thusly my young “male role model”. My only true goal in life is to grow old with enough stories under my belt to keep the grandkids entertained indefinately.
So, what is an elder, to me?
An elder is an individual who has the wisdom and knowledge of a lifetime behind them, but because of age are unable to fill the roles they once did. For example, an old hunter may know more about tracking than any of the young, but is no longer physically up to the hunt. So, their role changes from acting on their knowledge to passing that knowledge down. They also care for the young while those in their prime go out to “work.”
Their overall function is to educate the young, sharing their knowledge so it does not pass from the world, and leaving those in their prime to concentrate on their tasks without having to spend time teaching themselves.
In a rewilding sense, eventually elders will be the backbone of a tribes education. But in the current, experimental phase, there are few people who can teach us what we wish to know, and no multi-generational tribe culture to pass down. In essence, we have no elders. ( I speak to generally. I have discovered no elders).
But we should all be prepared, in our future, to act as elders when our time comes. It will be generations before humanity is anything close to rewilded, but what we learn today is the inheritance we will pass on to the next generation.
Teachers impart information. Elders impart wisdom. We need both, preferably mixed within the same person.
“But in the current, experimental phase, there are few people who can teach us what we wish to know,”
Are we even certain what it is we wish to know?
Sometimes nowadays we are so use to deciding for ourselves what we think is valuable or not. It’s a fine balance to reject what mainstream has always told you but not “throw the baby out with the bath water” so to speak.
Some folks who say they wish for elders to teach them also want to dictate the terms of what, where, when, and how, they get the teaching. Developing a relationship with an elder often involves a good deal of trust and faith in the elder and a willingness to do what you’re told without questioning or understanding where it is leading. As students we might not yet know what all is involved in learning what we are after. There may be many “pre-requisites” that we are totally unaware of.
It’s like a high school graduate who wants to be a brain surgeon, designing their own curicullum, then getting in a huff and telling long time, experienced surgeons to fuck off when things don’t turn out to look like they had pictured it.
Maybe if we can’t find a teacher it’s because we’re not ready to be students.
[quote=“heyvictor, post:10, topic:184”]“But in the current, experimental phase, there are few people who can teach us what we wish to know,”
Are we even certain what it is we wish to know?[/quote]
Actually, on that, I’d contend most people like to be taught what they ‘wish to know’, and of course, that’s what they’re done. And for most people, what they are taught, is what they wish to know, to the biggest extent possible.
In a word, they learn what they want to learn. Or what has been told to them they should learn, and then thus want to learn that. So if you look at that in light of modern civilization…
That’s sort of the point. What we wish we had were powerful role models to emulate. Instead we have selfish, spoiled brats in the position that should be filled by wise, world-weary elders. We gotta rebel agianst the values of the previous generation not because we don’t need elders, but because they aren’t being elders. I ain’t saying elders are better, just that they’ve learned a lot over their lifetimes. Sadly, the boomers, as a generation, have avioded learning anything their entire lives.
The difference you ain’t seeing is that the civilized, suburban conservatist teaching is all about what “you kids” owe “your betters”. It’s a way of maintaining the position of power the previous generation has over the younger. I mean, you are right, in both instances the culture gets imprinted on the younger by the elder, the only difference is, one imparts a culture that works, the other imparts an inherently disfunctional one.
I mean, really, don’t you ever wish our elders hadn’t fucked it all up so much?
But you DO have a culture, whether you like it or not. You speak englsh. You get what I mean when I refer to boomers. You probably get most pop culture references. You may pride yourself on rebelling against the values of your culture, but it is still your culture. Have you spent any time immersed in other cultures? I think when you do you begin to see how much your mother culture really shapes you.
And when you find a way of living that works better, won’t you want to share it? Don’t we need other people as part of our tribe, with shared values? Isn’t that the beginning of a new culture? What about when the tribe starts raising children? It’s not about eliminating culture (that’s impossible), it’s about altering or replacing it with one that works better, and part of workng better is being passed on to new generations.
The other day, I came across this publication: Gwich’in native Elders: not just knowledge, but a way of looking at the world.
Very interesting read.
Thanks Anneke, yes v. interesting with many applications to life in western culture too where folks are considered ‘elderly’ rather than ‘elders’ and pensioned off once they’re not longer able to work, tucked away out of sight in homes to be taken care of professionals etc. There’s nobody like these native elders around, certainly not in my life, unless you count detached luminaries in books or online, or the occasional inspirational course leader or teacher. But that’s not Family, that’s not Community - just more people whose services have to be paid for. So much harder when you have to learn the important things from scratch because the ancestral knowledge - what should be your birthright - has been lost/devalued/destroyed and all your parents teach you is how to be a compliant citizen and obedient, conformist worker… What wouldn’t I give to have someone like that Simon Francis in my life to take me out into the woods and teach me everything there is to know about the place and how to live there!
I have not really moved far from anarchist positions, to think that there will be need of a governing person or governing body over a small community successfully separated sustainably from civilization. If an elder is any of several individuals with more experience or expertise in an area, that would be considered helpful for advice, that is to be desired. But important decisions should come through processes for the community to reach collectively, so reaching consensus is important for it, and this is one of those things in which only small communities are needed, that should be pursued.
Hi Ian, I’m curious if you or anyone else here has a feeling that in our modern western (white) society we have so few elderly people who DESERVE to be called Elders (with a capital E). Does that make any sense? Can anyone relate? I think of this a great deal in relation to my parent’s and grandparents generations… they are responsible for so much heinous crap and for robbing me of that “birthright” you mentioned… where are my Elders? (and i tend to distinguish “elderly” which to me denotes advanced linear age vs. “Elder” which, while also typically more “elderly” is a term of deep respect based upon that person’s wisdom, sense, and conduct… thoughts?
Sorrow and frustration speak from your words, Tracie_Moon. I can relate to part of what you say, certainly. Yes, I miss Elders, personally, and also generally in our society. Yet, I feel all those elderly too did deserve to live in a society where in their old age they might have become Elders. Alas they didn’t live in such a world. The generations of our parents, grandparents and further back for quite a ways for the most part probably didn’t realize what they didn’t have either. So can we really say they “robbed” us of our birthright?
In modern Western culture I see lots of anger, contempt and other negative views of our ancestors (close, far and very far), but I doubt that most of them really kept our “birthright” from us on purpose. That said, the effect it had on us still looks the same. So it certainly needs our attention, grieving and healing to change things for the better, and reconciling with our ancestors belongs to that, too, I believe.
thank you, Anneke, you are so right about this.
i was reflecting a bit about my early introduction / impressions of the word “elder”… for me there were two specific things:
1.) “respect your elders!” (don’t talk back to adults etc…)
2.) Church Elders (who, in my mother’s conservative baptist church were to my young eyes always stuffy old men who would not stoop to acknowledging a little girl).
I loved my paternal grandparents very much but didn’t see them very often, and never met my maternal grandparents… i didn’t conceptualize them as “elders” though…
You also make a good point about the older generations being just as disconnected & “robbed” as we are now… i can rationally understand that for many of them it was their conditioned thinking that caused their actions and things may have been different if they had been more connected and had a healthy relationship with THEIR elders… multigenerational dysfunction and wounds that don’t heal - they just keep getting passed on. Grieving is absolutely key to healing
Thank you for sharing… when I read your post a second time, it seemed as if that phrase “respect your elders!” might sometimes express just that same despair - feeling a desire for younger people’s respect, but not knowing how to earn it.
Perhaps in this thread we can also share what works or what we’d like to try or do in order to change things for the better for the next generations? How about…
- ways to grieve;
- asking those older than us for their advice more often;
- asking those in our own generation who they seek out for advice;
- asking younger people about what goes on for them;