What are the Qualities of an Elder?

Eldership is about two things: qualities and roles.

A person may have the qualities of an Elder, but not be filling any Eldership role. Or a person may attempt to fulfill the role of Eldership without the qualities.

We think true Eldership only happens when a person with the qualities fulfils the role.

Below are some possible qualities of Elders. These were generated at a public forum in Perth, facilitated by Andrew Horabin. We are grateful to the 25 people who attended to share their thoughts, feelings and ideas.

There is a separate page for the possible ROLES of an Elder.

Some of the possible qualities of an Elder:

Their life experiences have led to deep learning.

They are willing and able to give of themselves.

They have come to accept life as it is, including their current condition, mistakes or injuries of the past and the insecurity of the future.

They are still active in life.

They are connected to nature/spirit and to community.

They have the freedom to speak their mind because they are no longer seeking to ascend in life and do not need to be concerned with the politics of success. They are also not attached to much.

They are willing to stand up and speak out. And they have the courage to face their own lives as is.

They have a deep appreciation of their own self and while they may enjoy the validation of others, they do not seek it in the way younger men and women do. Their validation comes from the Spirit or from within.

They have an easy joy for life.

They have developed a sense of what is – and is not – important.

They are still curious, still interested, still fascinated by life, still learning.

Despite the darkness in the world or of their own life experience, they have hope.

They are not afraid, not hassled, not rushed.

They have developed a keen awareness of their own self (psyche, personality, mind, shadow, etc). They may not have a perfect or complete understanding, but they have dedicated themselves to self-awareness – to “know thyself”.

They can sense and feel and understand the feelings of others.

They are sensitive, forgiving and compassionate.

They are aware of and actively developing a final relationship with dying. They can face death, eyes open. They can think and talk about it. It is safe to explore death in their presence – and develop a deeper appreciation of life.

They listen. Actively. Carefully. Lovingly. They know when to speak, when to ask questions and when to be silent.

They bring a spiritually grounded safety to relationships and interactions.

They relish and require silence and contemplation – as distinct from passivity, boredom or listless inaction.

They know when to act or speak and their actions are grounded in that depth of contemplation.

They have mostly resolved the grievances, hurts, mistakes and lost opportunities of their lives. They are not still kicking themselves or mentally imprisoning others for the past. As well as they are able, they have learnt from those things, healed and left those things behind.

They respect others and are respected by others.

They may be able to bring healing arts to new or old wounds.

They have the capacity to affect, influence or lead transformation in conflicts, situations or individuals.

Hard to define. But true Elders have got it.

We think an old person will struggle to function as an Elder if they:

  • Have learnt little or nothing of wisdom.
  • They are unwilling and unable to give of themselves.
  • They deny life and cannot accept their past, present or future.
  • They are passive and have no interest in ever being active again.
  • They are disconnected from nature/spirit or the community (either by their own choice or by neglect or lack of opportunity).
  • They are still seeking to ascend, compete, conquer, inflate and puff themselves up and are – therefore – still attached to self-image and receiving the validation of others. They are, thus, not free to feel, think and speak authentically.
  • They lack the courage to stand up and speak out.
  • They have little joy for life.
  • They still get caught up in things that are really not important.
  • They are not curious or interested – they have stopped learning.
  • They have no hope for the world.
  • They are stressed, frazzled, hurrying, anxious.
  • They have little or no self-awareness (generally characterized by such things as: offending others and never understanding why, being offended by others with no real understanding of why, only seeing other people’s problems, always blaming others in conflict, taking no responsibility, etc).
  • They cannot truly sense and feel and understand the feelings of others – they are insensitive, unforgiving and discompassionate. They are more likely to judge, blame and punish.
  • They are unable or unwilling to look at dying. It is unsafe to discuss death in their presence.
  • They do not listen.
  • They don’t know when to be quiet.
  • It might not be safe to be in their presence.
  • They avoid silence and find contemplation meaningless or painful.
  • They carry bitterness for the grievances, hurts, mistakes and lost opportunities of their lives.
  • They do not respect others and are probably not truly respected.
  • They lack the gifts of healing.
  • They lack the capacity to affect, influence or lead genuine, positive transformation in conflicts, situations or individuals.
  • They have no interest in ever becoming an Elder.

Of course, we are all “works in progress” and we will live with our Shadow and our short-comings til we die, but the Elder must have done the work of midlife and be genuinely committed to developing the qualities and fulfilling the roles of Eldership, however imperfectly.

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