The Roles 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 fulfil the role of Eldership without the qualities.

True Eldership only happens when a person with the qualities fulfils the role.

Below are some possible roles 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 QUALITIES of an Elder.

Some things Elders can do:

This is just a short summary of a BEGINNING of a list of things that Elders might do in community.

Guide the rites of passage of others
There are many significant rites of passage in a person’s life – from childhood into adulthood, entering marriage, changing careers, retirement, and so on.

In the various processes of particular rites of passage, Elders might have quite specific roles.

For example:

  • To witness. To simply be there as an mature being – an enlightened spirit – and cleanly witness the event.
  • To bless. To speak a blessing to the person passing through the rites of passage. This might be done formally at a ceremony, or informally, over time, as events unfold.
  • To lead ritual. To lead specific rituals that assist with communicating the outward change into the deep unconscious. That is, to help make the transformation complete.
  • To encourage. To “strengthen the heart” (as the word “encourage” literally means) with words or acts that help the younger person feel more capable on their journey.
  • To laugh and celebrate. To bring appropriate, life-affirming humour to an otherwise tense or serious experience. To ensure everyone is remember to enjoy the moment and the changes.
  • To offer a personal gift. To give a personal possession – acquired in the Elder’s life – as a physical symbol of the rite of passage. (Why accumulate things and leave them to people to interpret later – pass them on as significant symbols to the people you mentor!).

As an Elder has freed themselves of the need to climb ladders, win trophies, gain the approval of the boss and engage in other such young people’s pursuits, they are uniquely placed to offer a particular kind of advocacy.

The Elders may not replace younger, fiery, hard-working advocates – they could support them.

They could bring a mature voice, perspective. They could bring wisdom that helps the younger advocate to cope with the challenges. They could bring a calmness, love and patience to difficult conflicts. And they could – on occasion – stand up and speak out in a way that a younger person may find more dangerous.

Teaching life crafts
Elders may teach some of the “lost arts” or less common skills – things that were more common when the Elders were young but are less common now.

Some (of a hundred) possibilities: woodwork, poetry, journaling, knitting, sewing, growing herbs and vegetables, painting, home maintenance, courtship, furniture restoration.

Lead reconciliation
All around us – wherever we live – there are conflicts that require reconciliation. Elders may be able to bring the patience, love, care, wisdom and gifts of healing that can bring that reconciliation.

Large scale examples include rifts between:

  • the modern Australian culture and the country’s Indigenous people
  • women and men
  • city and country
  • religions (and groups within religions)
  • ethnicities

Smaller scale – but still important – examples may include rifts between :

  • family members
  • two local businesses
  • warring neighbours
  • a local community group and a business
  • departments in one organization

Elders may be able to work for reconciliation in these places and thus add to the peace and harmony of the world.

Elders can, of course, mentor individuals. They can accept younger people as they are whilst also encouraging people to be their best in every respect. They can help a younger person to work out early on what is really important. And they can be an ear to listen, shoulders to climb on and a voice that the mentored person will hear when they won’t listen to anyone else.

Model Eldership
Perhaps the simplest and broadest way in which a person can be an Elder – but potentially an immensely powerful way – is simply to model Eldership in a way that:
A) Gives a person a better view of growing old (in this very anti-aging culture).
B) Offers something special for now, too.

Modeling Eldership might mean (for example):

  • Doing the work on oneself
  • Demonstrating grace, courtesy, dignity and beauty in all things
  • Responding differently to conflicts and difficulties

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