Archive for elder

What’s in a Name, or Label

A "Wiser Together" contribution from guest blogger Tom Beech:

A little while ago, I received an email that caught me up short.  It was from a young, 20’s-something, friend of mine.  He and I are working on a project together and he sent me a copy of a note he had written to another friend of his, a young guy he wanted me to meet.  In this email he said, “I’d like you to meet an elderly man I know…..”

OK. Well, first let’s get some facts on the table.  I’m 74 years old, in pretty good mental and physical health, retired from a long career but still active in my community. I can string several strands of thought together and keep track of most of them without losing my way or boring others. “Elderly,” is not a word I’d use to describe myself.

I don’t think I’ve earned the status of “elder” and when you add a “-ly” on, I get a little defensive.  To be fully honest, I get defensive in the face of judgement and criticism more easily than I should, but that’s another story… I think. I don’t label others or lump them into arbitrary groups.  For example, I don’t refer to someone who’s young and then automatically add on the word, “whippersnapper!” Adding this on wouldn’t be very useful anyway since most young people wouldn’t have a clue about what it means.

So, after taking a few deep breaths, I started to think about what I’ve learned as a result of receiving this email.

First, this brought home the fact that other people don’t see us the way we see ourselves.  I see myself as active, healthy, interested in learning. My wife, Carol and I have been married for more than 45 years and we still find joy, excitement, love and fulfillment in being together. Every once in a while, I get the sense that our kids and others see frailty, lack of competence, lack of energy and lapses of attention that we don’t either feel or experience.

I’ve learned that age doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom.  Some of the wisest people I know are in their 20’s and some of the dumbest are in their 70’s. Truth be told, these folks were dense when they were in their 20’s too.  But age and experience, if we pay attention to what’s happening to us, and if we listen to the people around us, open the possibility of accumulating some wisdom. This of course requires us to be open both to those who think we’re terrific and heap praise on us and those who question our every move and thought, without getting either self-congratulatory or defensive.  And what good is this wisdom?  At the very least, it helps us avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly, and if we’re lucky, someone may actually listen to us once in a while.

I’ve learned that living at a slower pace is not a weakness. It allows me to pay attention, even in moments when it appears that I’m lost in my own thoughts. The fact that others don’t expect me to “keep up” is a blessing because I can savor what I’m experiencing, living with it more fully without feeling guilty. I used to feel that I was expected to keep all of the plates spinning, all of the balls in the air…all of the time.  That was exhausting and sometimes everything crashed at once.  Now doing one thing at a time or listening to one person at a time seems right, even if I have to ask, “What did you say?” often enough to exasperate Carol, who has the patience of Job.

I’ve learned that curiosity and failure are two sides of the same coin, and together, they keep life interesting. Curiosity may have “killed the cat” as the saying goes, but it keeps me alive. I’m learning new skills and exploring new arenas of information every day and one of the prices I pay for this is frequent failure.  I used to worry about failure a lot, mostly because I feared what other people would think.  Sometimes, my failures did affect others and in these cases, trying to avoid them was not just the safest thing to do, it was respectful and thoughtful.  But most of the time, the only person impacted was me. I still care about what people think, but now I realize that most of the time most people are unaware of what I’m doing. They’re busy just trying to get through their own days. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to see it….only the tree knows.

The meeting with my friend’s friend went well.  I learned from him and I think he enjoyed meeting me, even if he thought I was “elderly.”


Tom Beech is recently retired from a long career in philanthropy and is now active in his home community of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Anne’s Blessing

Everyone may not share her spiritual perspective but those who know Anne Dosher know why we at the World Café Community Foundation feel so blessed to have her hold the role of "Elder" and "Guardian of the Soul of the World Café", along with her more prosaic roles as a Community Foundation board member. Her wise council over many years now and her 80+ years have earned her the title of Elder, and it is her deep understanding of life's mystery and our true relationship with all things that make her a Guardian.

We asked Anne to share some personal words of blessing for this last day of Harvest Fund Drive, and here they are:

"For me, I have been privileged for fifteen years to be asked to be Elder and Guardian of Soul of The World Café and I have called for silence and spoken the blessing at the
beginning of meetings. Every day I call on the Great Spirit who moves in and around all things to be with us. All those who have found this work are blessed. Thank you for
joining us and supporting the work.
Blessings aye, Anne
Elder and Guardian of Soul"

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On this last day of our first ever Fund Drive, I hope you too are inspired to contribute to our goal of raising $25,000.00 by the end of today, November 4, 2011.

Thank you to all of you who have already joined us in making this Harvest Fund Drive a great success. Please make your valuable contribution to the World Café Community Foundation now, and help us bring home this Fund Drive successfully at this critical time for the World Café.

You'll be helping to catalyze the most critical conversations of our time.


Talking it Through

Born on the northeast coast of England, of Viking and Welsh ancestry, I grew up as a granddaughter of the Empire and daughter of the Commonwealth. As a young girl in the years following the First World War, I puzzled and then grieved that the men came back so hurt—legs lost, difficulty breathing––and so many dead. How could we have done this? I wondered. Why couldn’t we have talked it through? This was a question that really mattered to me.

Later, studying the armistice conditions ending the war, it became very clear that the lack of ongoing and authentic dialogue among nations created conditions for future conflict. I determined that, when I grew up, I would study ways in which these mistakes would not be repeated.

But then, instead of peace, World War II came, and I spent almost five years in the Royal Air Force. The overarching mission was simple: survive, defeat Nazism, end holocausts, and make the world safe for democracy. In the course of wartime, I lost friends, comrades, and home. One searing experience in Europe, in which I encountered ambulatory Jews being brought out of the camps, caused me to ask my commanding officer: Sir, how could we have done this? He snapped that of course, we had not done this, they had. Yet I knew that, somehow, our human community as a whole had failed in the face of these atrocities.

In my contemplation and study of these questions, it became clear to me that every societal change process I knew of started with an informal conversation in which men and women—young or old—were witnessed and “heard into speech,” sharing their dreams and hopes for making a difference around something they cared about. In being truly seen and heard, people discovered their mutual commitment to act and were transformed.

Networks of small circles of conversation springing up around the world were bringing forth an emerging collective consciousness that yearns for a more equitable and sustainable future for all people on this planet. Since the days in which the World Café was born in Juanita and David’s living room, I recognized it as a living metaphor for what life itself had taught me and have been intimately involved in guiding its evolution.

How can we talk it through? The question that has informed all of my life choices, now lies, I believe, at the heart of our capacity to survive as a species, and to ensure that our home, this beautiful planet, survives. For me, it is the core question that informs all of our other questions. If we could converse and talk things out, we would find new ways of being together in the world. But instead, we separate, conflicts begin, and when worse comes to the worse, we go to war. Then death comes in as a walking partner, instead of life.

I get so sad when I see how we adults cut off the conversations our children have with life––with grass, trees, birds and with their own imaginations. Engagement in the conversation of life is discouraged when in fact it is the most essential of our capacities: it is embracing a spirit of conversation that connects us to all forms of life. Authentic conversation without openness is not possible. I want to suggest to practitioners, to emerging leaders and to our children, that life itself can be a conversation—with other people, with nature, and with all of life.

When we walk together, we have a choice between destructive diatribe and a constructive dialogue. We can choose life and loving connection, or separation and disintegration. Listening to each other and truly talking together—these are deep, socio-spiritual actions. Conversation is a profound evolutionary act that helps us to expand our consciousness and connect together parts and people that appear to be separated. It is one of our unique human paths to fulfillment and wholeness.

We, collectively, can make the agreement as to how we will live together, and that only happens when we talk about it. We cannot do it alone. We must look at the dilemmas of our current situation and ask, “How can we be doing this?” We need to look together at what has happened and what is happening to humanity because we would not “talk it through”!

The promise of the World Café and other dialogue approaches is that we now know that we can experience a collective intelligence and wisdom in relation to complex questions. We can, by becoming conscious participants in the conversations of our lives, increase the probability of the right choices being made—life-affirming choices. Life itself is asking us to become co-evolutionists––to be responsible for our common destiny––to re-connect with the natural world and with each other. Making the choice to participate in this way is actually a sacred act. I define sacred as that which has value in and of itself and gives meaning to the whole.

Our conversations feed our stories and the stories flow into a great new story. Humanity is being invited to learn to speak honestly, listen compassionately, truly attune, hear, and sense the depth of what is emerging in our midst. We must tend communicative space, design our Cafés, search for the deepest questions that open gateways to the future, harvest and make visible our new collective thoughts as they emerge: together we will discover creative ways of living and being together in these uncertain times.

As Elder and “guardian of the soul“ of the World Café, I embrace this work as sacred and view life itself as a conversation. When I see the care and love of Café hosts setting out tables, placing the small flowers in the center, attending to the precision of questions that matter and welcoming people at the doorway, I cherish the knowledge that our human souls and the soul of the world is being honored.

Now, with gratitude to our ancestors and blessings to all of life, I invite you to enter the gateway to the future—discovering your own best hopes along with honoring the needs of future generations, including the young and those not yet born. Welcome! Find a seat with people you haven’t met. I invite you into conversations that serve life, and bless your efforts to discover how we can talk it through—together.