Where have all the elders gone?

November 1, 2006

How many people read Jason Godesky’s recent piece about the behaviour of young elephants who lack elders, and thought to themselves ‘that sounds familiar’. Traumatised young males lacking the leadership of elders go off the rails and commit violent acts against pretty much anything that moves. Very civilised indeed.We know where the elephant elders have gone, people have killed them, but where have our elders gone? Goodness knows there are plenty of people in the right age group – I can hear them griping now about how young people don’t show them enough respect these days, but really, how many of them are worthy of the title elder? How many do you know that you could count on to give good advice?I know the usual argument, ‘our society changes so fast that each generation can no longer relate to the one follows it’. Sure the world around us has changed but surely we haven’t changed that much down deep, I mean, doesn’t that important human stuff still exist? As a for instance, single people still want to find a partner don’t they? Older generations might not be able to advise young people where to go on a date but don’t we all go through the same nerve racking experiences and suffer the same hurts trying to initiate and maintain relationships as every other generation? Surely that hasn’t changed.

So what’s up then? To be sure, we live in a culture that prefers to focus on the superficial rather than the deep but I have to be honest, brutally honest, the baby boomer generation, which should be supplying us with elders is an appalling bunch. My disdain for them and the mess they’ve left us is only held in check by the thought that my generation is aiming to outdo them – although they may not get the chance.

The babyboomers are a generation that prides itself on staying youthful, looking young, acting young and feeling young. Never in recorded history has a generation crapped in it’s own nest the way this one has, never has a generation sold out like them, never has a generation used up resources in such a hurry and never has a generation been so damned selfish.

And to cap it off they look down upon the generations that follow – criticising us for behaviour that is merely a reflection of their own excesses.

My most focused antipathy is for the white middle class men of the generation that precedes me, the men who want to groom me to be amongst their successors. I do not like their fat, smug, self satisfied behaviour. I do not want to be like them. They can’t listen anymore, they can’t change and they blame everyone else for the ills of the world despite the fact that it is their childish hands on the tiller.

OK rant over. Here’s an example of someone who does deserve the title of elder. Despite recently discovering this individual in cyber space I can still count the number of men I know who deserve the title of elder on one hand. And if you think I’m being a bit harsh or sticking the knife in a bit far, think, for a moment about global warming. Think about the state of the oceans. Think about the death sentence that hangs over my children.

OK, the rant’s really over this time. When I was younger I didn’t think I needed elders but now I have young kids it’s a real struggle and we could really use some sage advice around here. Unfortunately most older people feel threatened by how we’re trying to raise our kids because it’s different to how they did it and we’re on our own. My greatest wish right now is that there would be someone around who could model non-coercive parenting to us.
That said though, I’m already doing some of the things they do. My entire life there has been the constant refrain about the state of ‘young people today’ and now at 35 I find myself looking at teenagers and joining the chorus. There certainly seems to be issue with boys in particular locking themselves away in their rooms with a computer or playstation and failing to develop any social skills – apart from virtual ones. Plus it’s only just dawned on me that texting has now made it possible for people to turn even their real relationships into virtual ones.

Think a bit deeper though and we shouldn’t be surprised at this. After all we’re talking about a generation that has been shunned by it’s parents from day one (if not earlier in a mental sense). They’ve been taught to avoid the difficulties’ of interpersonal relationships by being forced to sleep away from their parents from early on and being made to go to school and relate only to those in their exact age group (to name but two factors).

Remember also that this is a generation with fathers who have great difficulty in being with their children and who use jobs and other ‘important’ tasks to save them from having to confront difficult relationship issues. The only difference between the adult and the child is that the adult’s escape is graced with an aura of respectability while the child’s is not.

This tendency of teens to be uncommunicative is nothing new – just ask my parents, what is new though is the far more comprehensive array of distractions at this generation’s disposal. It is now much, much easier to disappear into a world of virtual relationships.

Truth be told I’m not that different from these fathers either. I’ve made sure that I’m around a lot in the physical sense for my children but it’s a real struggle to be fully there in the mental sense. I too feel the urge to be doing far more ‘important things’. To be fair on all of us though, in a village situation other children would be around to play imaginary games with our child and we would only ever join in with their games when we wanted to spend time with them.

My only question now is; how do I get to that village and where are the elders who will guide us in setting up a functioning community? Get in touch with me, please, if you know.


  1. I was hoping someone would pick up that implication in that article. Thanks, Aaron. As someone who lucked out with two really incredible parents, I’ve nonetheless long been appalled that our generation simply has no elders worthy of our respect–you’ll need to find it on the individual level, those exceptions like my own parents, because as a generation, they’ve never been interested in taking responsibility for themselves, and I doubt they’re going to start now. They love to cite the proverb to “respect your elders,” and love to forget that “elder” means more than just managing to go enough years without happening to die.

    Posted by: Jason Godesky | 11/01/2006

    Yeah, I’ve had this stuff rattling around in my head for a while and your article was enough to motivate me into action, I didn’t realise though, just how pissed I am the baby boomers until those rants started pouring out of me.

    Posted by: Aaron | 11/02/2006

    I’ve found older people to be very communicative and interesting here in the City. Some of my most memorable conversations have been with old Taxi drivers. But, clearly, there’s a lack of connection with a “taxi driver” that I’ll see only once.

    I question how much anyone “young” does respect “elders” and just old people in general. Does a college person even respect his professors? There is a lot of anti-authoriatarianism influencing all of us. Not to mention, when I was in my 20’s I remember thinking that older people just grew up in a world that was different. I didn’t like older people. Now, in my 30s I am very open to talking to older folks.

    One thing I have been surprised by is how generally liberal older people are. Instead of encouraging blind patriotism, I get stories of how, within a half hour of Pearl Harbor, Japanese where being told to report to the Military.

    I don’t know, the Boomers are different. I’m less impressed with their “worldliness” and wisdom for sure.

    Posted by: Jack Trace | 11/16/2006

  2. […] to our men? July 8th, 2007 I’ve often harangued my father’s generation for their poor performance as elders but aside from giving me the opportunity to pour out my own feelings on the matter it hasn’t ever […]

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