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Over one billion (yes, you read that correct – one billion) animals have been killed. The fires have burnt through 11 million hectares.
Although there have been denialists, experts (ranging from Fire and Rescue Commissioners, to scientists, to foresters) all say that climate change is creating the conditions in which fire is more likely, more frequent, and more intense.
Climate change is also making it less possible to prevent fires, and less possible to deal with them once ablaze.
Around the world there have been other major climatic events over the past year: second warmest year on record, near record Arctic sea-ice melt, second strongest Atlantic hurricane on record (Dorian), wettest year in US history leading to $15 billion worth of flood damage.
We are living in troubled times.
And many people are recognising that, not the least the youth of the world. The Student Climate Strike of September 2019 saw over 4 million people take part, spread across 150 countries.
Young people are frustrated, young people are angry. Young people are raising their voices.
How Does An Elder Act?
As a Baby Boomer (born in the 1950s) I ask myself: how should an elder act in these troubled times?
I have emphasised the word “elder” here, so as to distinguish from the question: how does an older person act?
The distinction is important, because an elder does not become an elder simply by surviving the ravages or comforts of time.
Elder Water and Youthful Fire
Before returning to my question, a quick diversion.
A healthy human development journey could be characterised as moving through the four elements (Air, Fire, Earth, Water) of life. Childhood is the time of Air: new breath, breeziness, wonder, imagination. The teenage and young adult time is that of Fire: passion, energy, love, anger, strength, dynamism. The years of Adulthood are the Earth years: stability, groundedness, fertility, security, prosperity. Then the Elder can be represented by Water: cleansing, healing, fluid flow, purification, receptivity, unconditional love.1
Back to my question: how should an elder act in these troubled times?2
I must admit to struggling to find an adequate answer, although the question itself is worth repeating over and over again. Because it is not a question that often gets asked.
Even in the company of older people it is an uncomfortable question to raise. There are so few true elders in western-styled culture that there are little or no examples to learn from, or to follow. It is an uncomfortable question too, because it calls into question as to what has been done in our lives to warrant the role of elderhood?
Returning to the Water/Fire symbolism, I can suggest some answers about what an elder does not do.
Being Water, an elder does not use that water to douse the Fire of youth. An elder does not dampen the spirits of young people. An elder listens to the anger of young people with compassion. An elder in troubled times (times in which young people are fearful for the future) does not tell young people to “shut up, go to school, get a job.”
Also, an Elder does not use the Fire of youth to boil the Water of old age. To do so is a form of stealing from the young. It is a form of saying “look at me, I’m just as mad as you.” Hearing, and witnessing that, a young person has every right to turn around and say “OK Boomer!”
So, how does an elder act? What does an elder do? What does an elder say? How does an elder be?
I’m grappling with answers to these questions, so if there are any thoughts from readers, then I would love to hear them.
The answers may lie in the qualities/traits of Water: cleansing, healing, fluid flow, purification, stability, strength, change, devotion, receptivity, impermanence, unconditional love.
Another blog beckons.
1. The Four Element conception of the human development journey is my own, although highly influenced by eco-psychologist Bill Plotkin. Along with Plotkin I suggest that a large percentage of individuals in western-styled societies and western culture itself are stuck in what Plotkin calls “patho-adolescence.” Thus, very few arrive at the Waters of Elderhood. See Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul, New World Library, California, 2008.
2. “Elders in troubled times” is a reference to: Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age: The Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble, North Atlantic Books, California, 2018.