What’s The Difference Between An Elder And An Old Man?
Alan Huyshe wrote this shortly before he died of cancer in July 2011 after a long illness. He had a quality of elderhood about him which attracted young men on the workshops he staffed for the ManKind Project. The younger men in the group would swarm around him, seeking his presence, his blessings, his energy – even though I am sure none of them could have explained what it was they saw in him or why they were so strongly attracted to him.
This, to me, was a constant reminder of the craving all men have in them to be acknowledged, approved, blessed, and supported by an older man whom they respect – a father, or a King in their world. And I judge the shortage of elder blessings and elder presence for young men is one of the most serious social problems our world faces to day.
Here’s what Alan had to say on the subject: What’s the difference between an old man and an elder?
My guess is that there’s no definitive answer. However, it’s a question I have been pondering in depth this last 18 months or so, and I’d like to share what I’ve come up with.
An Old Man is someone, probably between the ages of 40 and 70 upwards, who has recognised that things are changing. That he is LOSING something. Energy, opportunity (less years ahead in which to do all the things he’s been planning to do “one day”), mental clarity, sexual potency, a relatively pain free existence, the ability to sleep through the night without having to get up for a pee…. the list goes on.
There is a LOSS, and a grieving process that requires facing up to and going through. Or possibly just getting into denial over. A journey that involves (or could involve) acceptance and coming to terms with a new reality. The age at which this starts to happen varies enormously, depending on life choices as well as life’s dealing out a good or “bad” hand of cards.
Some men will come upon it early, some men will still be more active and alert than many a young man even into their seventies.
An Elder, however, is a man, probably between the ages of 40 and 70, who has recognised that he is gaining things. Whether or not he’s becoming “an old man”, whether or not he’s also losing something physically, mentally and sexually, he knows he’s gaining something profound in his soul. And he wants to explore this further, learn more about it, maximise it and offer what it gives him freely to the world. Because he has experienced that the world has a deep thirst for what he has to offer. So what are these gains?
WISDOM. As life’s experiences mount up, some of us get to understand that, much like we earlier discovered a source of courage within us that we could tap into and find all the courage we needed to face the present reality, so we now have found a source of Wisdom. And also that the more we tap into that, the easier it gets, the clearer and deeper the River of Wisdom can flow (and no doubt surprise us from time to time!)
THE POWER OF BLESSING. Although the ability to recognise and acknowledge another has always been with us, we learn more and more that those younger than us thirst for our recognition, our acknowledgement, encouragement, empowerment, our love, our Blessing. We cultivate the various ways of giving this, be it silently and privately, or up front, verbally and specifically. And we recognise that when we open to giving Blessing, something beautiful and indefinable flows into us and so through us and deeply (so deeply) into the person we are Blessing.
Terry Jones has said that Blessing involves any or all of the following: meaningful touch; spoken word; attachment of high value to the other; picturing for the other a special future; and/or an active commitment to the other to help them realise their future, their dream. I would add that it also involves focused contact with my heart.
EXPERIENCED MENTORING. As the years accumulate, many of us learn to enjoy and develop the power of Mentoring. Finding ourselves stirred by co-operation and consensus we gain experience in the synergy of facilitator and facilitated in co-creation, and enjoy it deeply. We also discover that the patterns of the past do not need to prevail, and learn therefore to listen to the young.
Something also can happen in our relationship to our planet, and we become more of an EARTHKEEPER. Recognise more and more that we are partners with the Earth, rather than her children. And not only partners with The Earth, but also with Humanity, and all living creatures.
Finally, there is that elusive thing, PRESENCE. As we consciously choose to explore further those things above that we have gained in our years, we gain an indefinable but palpable presence to which others are drawn and which can have the effect of “pouring oil on troubled waters” whenever we are in the company of others – especially those younger than us.
So: an Older Man is someone aware of loss. An Elder is someone aware of gain, and consciously choosing to magnify, to develop, that gain, and to give it freely.
Rod Boothroyd runs workshops for men dedicated to “Finding The King Within”, as well as Emotional Process Workshops for men and women who want to grow emotionally and embrace happiness. For more details see