Home Concepts Adult Development Deep Caring XXXI: Social Class, Agency and the Generative Society

Deep Caring XXXI: Social Class, Agency and the Generative Society

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The Dimensions of Appreciation

Stated in somewhat different terms, a generative society engenders gratitude. Not only are monuments erected to honor fallen heroes and pioneers (Generativity Three), but also simple words of gratitude are abundant as those who provide generative actions (in all four roles) are acknowledged. One of our Sage leaders clearly articulates the need for this appreciative acknowledgement in a society of generativity:

When working within volunteer organizations, where people are not paid to perform and meet goals, we all need to be grateful for any time or effort that is given freely. We need to gracefully enable people, use collaboration and an open mind. Everyone has unique gifts, and it is important to hear everyone’s ideas—holding in mind the organization’s objectives and mission. Most folks are doing the best they can. Projects take longer sometimes. Some people volunteer just because they want to be involved, but they may have few skills. However, they are there with their heart open, and we need to find a place for them to contribute. I am learning to have more flexibility and grace when working with volunteers.

Appreciation is engaged in two additional ways that often are not acknowledged. Appreciation in a generative society also refers to recognition of the distinctive strengths and potentials of people working within the society. An appreciative culture is forged, and a generative society emerges, when an emphasis is placed on the realization of inherent potential and the uncovering of latent strengths rather than on the identification of weaknesses or deficits. People and societies “do not need to be fixed. They need constant reaffirmation.” (Cooperrider, 1990, p. 120) Even in a context of competition, appreciation transforms envy into learning, and personal achievement into a sense of overall purpose and value. The remarkable essayist Roger Rosenblatt (1997, p. 23) reveals just such a shifting and generative perspective in candidly describing the role that competition with other writers plays in his own life:

Part of the satisfaction in becoming an admirer of the competition is that it allows you to wonder how someone else did something well, so that you might imitate it—steal it, to be blunt. But the best part is that it shows you that there are things you will never learn to do, skills and tricks that are out of your range, an entire imagination that is out of your range. The news may be disappointing on a personal level, but in terms of the cosmos, it is strangely gratifying. One sits among the works of one’s contemporaries as in a planetarium, head all the way back, eyes gazing up at heavenly matter that is all the more beautiful for being unreachable. Am I growing up?

Paradoxically, at the point when someone or an entire society is fully appreciated and reaffirmed, they will tend to live up to their newly acclaimed talents and drive, just as they will live down to their depreciated sense of self if constantly criticized and undervalued.

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