America is a youth-centered culture. Retirees can become obsolete. Old folks’ opinions are not valued, much less sought.
“Never trust anyone over 30” was a phrase Robert Han Bishop, founder of the Conscious Elder Wisdom Circle, said was popular during his prime in the 1960s. Today, as an aging man, Bishop, 78, is rejecting this concept.
During the counterculture movement, the younger generation was “discounting the way of the old guard,” he said, and for good reason. But that shift may have gone too far.
Family dynamics play a role as well. “Families don’t stay together,” Bishop said. It’s difficult to be a wise grandfather who can influence growing grandkids when grandpa is states away.
Bishop’s goal is to bring together a group, the “Silver Panthers,” to rebel against elderly stereotypes, start a movement to restore the respect and usefulness of elders and act as mentors. He was inspired by the book “From Age-ing to Sage-ing,” a spiritual guide to growing older, because old and wise are not always synonymous. Plenty of those along in years never seem to shake their teens, he said.
Bishop is part of the Elders Action Network, a nonprofit supporting an elder movement to influence cultural change. He and his wife, Sarah, also host Death Café discussions at the Pine River Library, where people talk about the taboo subject of dying. CWEC and Death Café have similar formats – they are confidential; encourage meaningful dialogue; and are not religious, political or therapy groups.
The CWECs are held at 10:30 a.m. every fourth Wednesday at the library. Anyone is welcome to join regardless of age. Conversation prompts are discussed freely with the notion that attendees “shift from informal socializing or opinionated discussion into a receptive attitude of thoughtful speaking and deep listening.”
At the March 28 meeting, an anthropologist, an artist, a 24-year-old with schizophrenia and other community members discussed their thoughts about growing older and their concerns with the world. Some mentioned their anxieties with the country’s deep division.
The anthropologist said they are disheartened that humans have repeated the same mistakes for thousands of years. Someone, who used to be painfully shy, mentioned they became more outspoken when they reached their 50s. With some mixed feelings, everyone agreed that overall aging is a gift, even with the aches and pains that come along with it.
This meeting was an introduction into future discussions. As CWEC evolves, the intention is to close the group with those who are dedicated to making a meaningful change.
“I don’t know how many days I have left,” Bishop said, adding he wants to feel a sense of completeness and acceptance with any lingering, unsettled matters. “How do I clear those things and become a clear source of wisdom?” he said.