Humankind’s historic check on the excesses of adulthood — always imperfect, never complete — was elderhood. Our culture’s deliberate destruction of elders and elderhood ranks as one of the greatest acts of intentional cultural mayhem on record. For most people, the idea of a “life beyond adulthood” is as unfamiliar as the terrain of some distant moon.
Aging is necessarily a diverse phenomenon but the approaches people take to aging around the world do share certain commonalities. At the root of them all is the ancient habit of relying on elders to pull their back from the brink of self-destruction.
Toward this end, Elders have long been respected as sources of wisdom, peacemaking and storytelling. (Insert obligatory, “There is no fool like an old fool” caveat.) Such virtues might not seem like much in a world gone mad with speed and productivity but they really do remain essential to the long-term survival of human cultures.