Elders or old farts? We have a choice!

Learning comes in fits and starts, and that’s certainly been true in my life beyond 50.  The first weekend group of maturing men was a huge leap forward for me, and is still a catalyst weeks later.

Two of the big themes of that weekend were fellowship and elderhood.  Many of us felt relief and elation to be in a circle where we belonged.  Becoming an elder was the path towards meaning and relevance that we found as a group.

It’s easy for men beyond 50 to feel irrelevant.  Surely our functions have been fulfilled?  Most of us have finished family, got beyond careers and know we’re past our prime in physical strength and what we can do with it.  That deadly term old fart sums up the prospect of many pointless years ahead.

It’s easy to understand why many older men are sunk in depression, addiction, or solitary habits.  The world won’t give us answers, we have to find them, both as individuals and as a fellowship.  Elderhood is such a big topic that I can’t explore it all in one blog: the aspect I want to consider here is giving back, being of service.

At age 63, I feel I have masses to learn about elderhood, but I do have a vision of where our generation could go with it.  First we need to find ourselves, re-invent who we are, recover a sense of confidence.  Then we need to use our talents.  The traditional roles of the elders were largely about being of service to the tribe.  Men and women beyond 50 need to re-create this role.  There are 8.5 million men of this age in the UK: that’s a huge pool of resources, and could be a big voice for change: even more if we can speak alongside mature women.

On the one hand we have an array of appalling social economic, environmental problems.  On the other hand we have … ourselves.  It may take years to create the awareness and organisations to apply most of this potential to the problems, but any of you reading this can start today.

Where to start?  Here are a few ideas:

  1. Do something soon, locally.  Ask at your local library or Citizens Advice Bureau for projects needing volunteers.  Especially for men who feel lonely and unconfident, a small step like this, being of practical help to others, can start an upward spiral.
  2. Consider the skills you have, and the issues you feel passionate about: see how you can bring these together.  It may need some research and experimentation, but it could really help you and many others.
  3. Join in with groups tackling problems that concern you.  For example, in sustainability, this could be Friends of the Earth or Transition Town.  Log on to www.38degrees.org.uk and add your voice to their online campaigning.
  4. Consider if you could give some financial support to campaigns and charities you believe in.
  5. Start conversations about this with other elders, respond to this blog posting, help find our collective voice.

An issue which touches a lot of older men is the young men who lack fathering.  My New Year Resolution is to find good organisations who enable mature men to offer mentoring to young men, and to publicise them through www.menbeyond50.net.

I’m delighted that the Guardian Christmas Appeal 2011 is for eight charities helping disadvantaged young people.  Since actions speak louder than words, I’m giving the only money I’ve earned from MB50 to support this Appeal.  If you’d like to support this, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/christmas-charity-appeal-2011

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