Why We Need Elders

Jun 05, 2022

Many cultures around the world and throughout time have displayed the importance of elders. These well functioning societies put their grandmothers and grandfathers at the center of their clans, holding them in high esteem and relying on them for stability and guidance. Sadly, this is not the norm in our modern western culture where aging can feel like a punishment. Enduring social stigmas and hidden in separate living quarters, many of our elders are suffering from neglect, loneliness, and abuse. There is hope, however, because some of us are beginning to recognize the ways that we have let our elders down and we hope to do better. Increased awareness with discussions around agism and elder abuse are the first step, but real healing won’t happen until when we once again hold our elders in high esteem and return them to their proper place at the heart of our clans and culture.


For their basic survival and wellbeing, elders need to be loved and cared for by others, but it’s hardly a one-way street. The benefits of having honored elders at the center of our communities and culture are vast. Here are just a few of the reasons why we need elders:


Elders Have Life Knowledge and Wisdom

They say wisdom comes from firsthand experience, as the knowing is in the doing. In this sense, elders have served their time experiencing the trials, tribulations and joys of life from a myriad of different perspectives. Imagine this, nearly every stage of life has already been experienced by the elders before us. While we toil away with the unknown ahead, it should bring us great solace to consider how many members of our society have already navigated the successes and failures of multiple careers, marriage, raising children, entering middle life, and the aging process. Facing life’s struggles and the chaos of change can be understood as normal when we’re able to talk with someone who’s already been through much of it. When we bring all ages together in community, the younger audiences get a better perspective on their own life and the elders feel valued and witnessed.  


Elders Create Stability and Connection

While most kids in their twenties are intended to leave home and individuate, they are often still under the thumb of well-intended parents who have their own personal views of what young adults should do with their lives. It’s true that most parents know their children best and that their input and support is very important to the development of a youth’s health and wellbeing. But many parents have had 18 years to offer their beliefs about life to their children. So when their kids turn into legal adults at 18, it’s a rite of passage for them to explore the world with awareness that they are testing out old and new ideas to further develop their own beliefs and ways of being. This is a time when elders can really help. By understanding this life stage from a more seasoned perspective, they are able to offer a solid foundation for young adults moving through this difficult decade. As they listen intently to their stories and allow them to make mistakes in the name of gathering wisdom, this kind of non-judgmental support and guidance is critical to the proper evolution of our younger generations. It also provides the elderly with a shot of youthful energy and a look at the state of our world from the fresh perspective of younger people. Many elders thrive on staying current this way, instead of being stuck in a rigid outdated mindset.


Elders Teach Us About the Circular Nature of Time 

When we force the spiraling cycle of time into a straight line that goes from point A to B, elders and the pasts they contain seem of little value. Instead of being quick to throw out the past for the sake of competition and future innovation, we should turn to the elders and let them remind us how time collects and folds in on itself. Magic happens when we experience time as cyclical, because we recognize the value in slowing down to gather wisdom and apply it going forward, instead of forging ahead at all costs. While linear models of time tell us to look away from the past, elders ask us to look both forwards and backwards in time to get a sense of where we are now. This circular view of time makes our actions today feel more meaningful when we know they are part of a continuing cycle.


In summary, elders are needed to help humanity heal. We need to shift ourselves away from thinking of eldership as a stratified or isolated “final stage” of life. If life stages and time are circular in nature, it’s the elders who complete these cycles and offer us connection to the whole.  We must re-learn how to interact with one another at all stages of life, rather than simply evolving as a clean line by placing the most value on one stage over another. The irony is that our elders are suffering in isolation, and so are we.  We need each other to connect, be whole and heal.