Freedom, Power and Spirit
Later mid-life men and women often discover in addition that they have exchanged their freedom for the achievement of high social status and power. George Orwell (2009) writes of this tradeoff in his short story, Shooting an Elephant. The esteemed and powerful white leader of an Indian village, during the years of the British Empire, must kill a rogue elephant that is threatening the villagers. He hates the idea of killing this magnificent beast. Yet because he is at the top of the social order in this village, he finds himself walking down a path preparing to shoot the elephant. At this moment, the white male leader discovers that he has traded his freedom (to say “no” in this instance) for social status and power.
One of our Sage leaders offers insights about this shift in perspective that results not from serving as the leader in an Indian village, but from recognizing that he finds the greatest generative gratification in engaging activities of a much humbler and less “spirited” nature:
I have only been on one board here in Nevada County for which I eventually became president. That is Sierra Writers, and I have chaired the non-fiction critique group for about ten years. I also enjoy doing specific projects for a variety of non-profits here: ushering for Music in the Mountains, collecting tickets, writing newspaper articles, painting or preparing food for workers at Habitat, working at the church fair-booth, and assisting at the Food Bank on occasion. I am also quite involved in the Sage Leadership Project. I like working alongside people now more than heading up any organization, paid or not. I got tired of committee meetings and bureaucracy.
This may be one of the most important truths that mid-life men and women must learn as they engage in Generativity. We gain power in exchange for freedom. We find spirit but it is a constrained spirit. We seek out positions of formal influence, only to find that we aren’t really making much of a difference in the world. Ironically, it seems that we must often defy (or at least step outside of) the system that got us to the top in the first place to confront and alter this truth. This is one of Chayefsky’s most haunting images in Network. We witness Howard Beale, a man in later mid-life, go mad and become “madder than hell,” as a way of discovering his own freedom.Download Article 1K Club