A while back John Halstead wrotre very excellent post about generational differences in the neopagan community. In particular, it addressed something that is I have been becoming more and more aware of, and that seems to be discussed more openly in the pagan community: the status of elders in the community.
I remain deaf to appeals to the authority of one’s chronological age. One reason is because I don’t see much of a correlation between chronological age and wisdom. I know some people in their 20s and 30s whose inherent wisdom and life experience make me feel as naive as an infant. And I know people twice my age that act like infants — especially when their ideas are challenged. In addition, it seems to me that people, of any age, who are wise, have no need to claim the authority of years. Their wisdom speaks for itself, through their words, their acts, and their demeanor.
Those, of every generation, who invoke the authority of their age and cry “ageism” when no one listens seem to be cut from a common mold. They are comfortable with the status quo, and they fear that the times they are a changin’. These would-be elders claim to define our future by appeals to the past. No doubt, there is a critical role for tradition, for structure and institutions. They act as a bulwark against chaos, both social and personal. And our elders are the guardians of that bulwark. But bulwarks can become obstacles. And unless the structures of the old generation are vivified by the energies of the new, then they stagnate.
When I touched on this subject myself, it was from a place of frustration and anger, directed squarely at a vendor that complained about how younger generations weren’t doing things exactly as he wanted them to do.
He said that generations X and Y and the millennials were lazy, and lacked independence and ingenuity, and wanted everything handed to them. That they weren’t entrepreneurs, that they didn’t take risks, and that they didn’t solve problems. And that when it came to the metaphysical and new age communities, the younger generations were sitting back and not taking action, and leaving it to the aging 60’s hippies to keep doing all the heavy lifting.
And I was more than happy to throw that all in his face while pointing out that I was literally making a plan to improve the community and address his complaints, and he shut me down because the ideas I came up with weren’t in line with the old way of doing things.
He wanted innovation and creativity and action, as long as it was the way he did things when he was younger. He wanted to relive the days when his generation changed the world, and complain that my generation wasn’t doing enough, and then tell me that what I wanted to do wouldn’t work because it wasn’t what he did 50 years ago.
Because when he fought the system, it was revolution and progress. But now it’s his system, and by Jove, who am I to question it?
The older generation often does work to maintain the status quo, largely because they have helped created that status quo and identify with it. And since they have so much invested in their way of doing things, they often ignore or overlook ways in which that system is outmoded, irrelevant, or damaging.
I think I did take that particular vendor’s attitude a bit personally. But let’s be honest: when someone says something needs to happen, and you offer idea to do it, and you are told your ideas suck and you are lazy because your ideas aren’t what they would have done several decades ago, then that can rub you the wrong way.
We’re told to respect our elders. They don’t always respect us.
What authority does an elder have? Why are they still in charge? Shouldn’t they serve more as advisers than the current leaders? Shouldn’t they know when to step aside and allow new leaders to grow? Isn’t the whole point of the Crone archetype to decline gracefully instead of clinging desperately to power and old ideas?
And I’ll be entirely honest here: I’m getting tired of the Baby Boomers.
The 60’s are long gone. It’s over. Stop clinging to your imagined glory days and telling us that your long tired and failed policies and ideologies are the only way to do things. Especially while speaking out the other side of your mouths about how we won’t take responsibility or action or leadership.
Get out of the way and let us.
Yes, a lot of people who have been in the community for a while have made vital and significant contributions. Yes, they deserve our respect, and in some cases a greater amount of reverence. But as we have an obligation to honor their work, they have an obligation to move aside and honor ours.
And this also touches on another issue: who gets to be considered elders? Are we to judge people by their contribution, or by their age and time served? I’ve encountered several (at least in the local community) who have expected special treatment simply due to their age. And that attitude often is accompanied by the belief that the way they did things back in the day is superior to the way things happen now.
I’m not much younger than Halstead, and I admit that I have own biases regarding taste and aesthetic and the trends and fashions of younger people. But I also take delight in and respect much of the creativity and innovation that I have seen, some of which simply wasn’t possible in the technological or cultural climate of my own younger days.
And I’m certainly not going to expect younger people to defer to me simply because of my age. I hope that my work merits some consideration on its own, but that should be independent of how old I am. I am more experienced and diversified than many people older than me, and I am no where near as skilled as some people younger than me. I should be judged based upon the work I present, how useful my own experiences are to helping other people, and how I treat people.
And yes, I’m part of a certain generation, and because of that I have certain advantages, perspectives, and motivations. But it is my job to act as a guiding principle to younger generations, not a controlling one. I should hope that they learn from my failures and success, and not demean them from doing things differently than how I did.
And I’m not sure why, but older generations seem to be having trouble learning that lesson.