Making the connections: Elders, Elderhood, wisdom and community building

Submitted by cygkwan on May 7, 2012 - 11:19am

Hi, Elders, Elderhood, wisdom and community building…what are the connections? Last year, I started this journey of exploring these very connections. I travelled to the Philippines for my community development practicum. I stayed four months, and collaborated with 8 local elders in underserved communities, who have shown me (so profoundly) how elders contribute to community development. My development philosophy is based on the idea of building human connections. The elders I worked with definitely valued the same philosophy. The elders I collaborated with in our research (exploring what community organizing means through their lens), did not have any formal education, but had a heck of a lot hard-earned life experiences…the wisdom so necessary for us younger generations to learn from, so we don’t keep doing the same mistakes over and over again. The different generational perspectives are so critical to community building. If we are to see the possibilities of where our communities can move toward, we must also be able to take a step back and look how we came about to where we are now. Intergenerational exchange is a matter of survival in traditional societies. The idea is that different age groups held unique capacities and strengths, which each group is interdependent on. Old age and ageing is a virtue in traditional societies. Ageing and old age experienced a radical reinterpretation, as societies became urbanized, and dependent on sophisticated technologies. My own experience in the Philippines (, and my current work with Elder Service Corps (, are examples of powerful intergenerational exchanges, where I continue to explore and nurture those connections: elders, elderhood, wisdom and community building. I invite you to share with me your perspectives on these connections, and how we may revitalize that word “Elder” in our communities. I hope you are enjoying your day so far. Cheers, Crystal

Stories of the Elders

Thanks for the post Crystal. Your experiences in the Philippines sound rich with learning.

Your post connected (in my brain anyway :) with a post by Michael Jones on the tamarackcci site. It is about community stories.  I made the connection because my experience with First Nation's communities on the west coast of Canada continue to teach me about the role and importance of elders. For the nuu-chah-nulth people, it is the stories of the elders that pass along the wisdom, the life lessons and the values. Michael writes about stories that are place based. The stories from our local First Nation elders are both cultural and place based - the two cannot be teased apart.

Stories "help individuals see they’re ‘value added’ role in how they can serve the larger whole

  • They offer an opportunity for everyone to belong to a story.
  • They serve as the common ground for building a long-term strategic plan.
  • They elevate the collective identity of a community.
  • They enhance the quality of health and well being for everyone. 
  • They reassert and build upon the significance of its heritage story
  • They serve as a unifying force around which culture, tourism, economic development and social initiatives can align."

Stories... wherever they come from but particularly from our elders... hold great power for social identity, social health and social change.


New Elder Stories

Thank you for sharing the link Tracey, I enjoyed reading it. Stories are powerful. I agree they are a way to facilitate social change, as well. I recently finished reading a book that was recommended to me by my colleague, about servant-leadership and elderhood: Claiming your place at the fire, living the second half of your life on purpose (here is a link of a brief overview of what the authors talk about: 

The authors talk about this concept of “New Elder Stories,” and it resonates with what Michael Jones shares about story telling.

“New elder stories have a context that connects them to something more than just the individual. In the telling of new elder stories, we aren’t just going on about our own lives, were offering a perspective that connects our own experience to something more universal.

In the telling of new elder stories, three stories emerge. Each of us begins by articulating “my story” –our own hero’s journey, if you will. We move, then to communicating “our story” –the myths and legends of our own people. Finally, elders learn to articulate “the story” –the common themes of humanity that bind us all together, in all ages and at all times. “

My Story, Our Story, and The Story…this reminds me of the Seeking Community’s own words “I, we, and us.”