Home Concepts Adult Development Essay XXII:  Generativity Four—The Varieties of Civic Engagement

Essay XXII:  Generativity Four—The Varieties of Civic Engagement

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Extension of Space

Generativity Four is about another form of extension. It is about extension in space rather than in time. While Generativity One is about deep caring for someone or something that is very close to us (in space and in our heart), and Generativity Two is about extending this space and heart to other people in our organizations (through mentoring, motivating, etc.) and into the future (through ensuring that there is a legacy), Generativity Four is about extending the space into a broader community and ensuring that a legacy is expanded, embedded, and preserved in this community. Stated simply, Generativity Four is about doing something much larger than Generativity One, Two, and Three. It is about doing something more than preserving the past and preparing for our own deaths as older adults. Rather, it has to do with building something new for the future by advancing civic welfare in own community.

This extension in space beyond our own death is a very important concept because it leads us to a final exploration of the interplay between generativity and both spirit and soul (a topic to which we turn in the final chapter of this book). This type of extension is captured in the title of John Kotre’s Outliving our Selves. It also builds on the fundamental concept of generativity offered by Erik Erikson, who proposed that the primary developmental task during the final years of our lives is to seek ego integrity and not fall victim to existential despair. Erikson thought that by the time we reach 60 years of age, we begin preparing for our own death. Now, increased life-expectancy is giving the average senior 15, 20, or even 30 more years to choose between vibrant engagement or stagnation and decline.

Engagement or Despair

Yes, there are people who withdraw and lead a life of despair; Erikson’s challenge is an accurate description of the unfortunate men and women who choose to retreat behind gates and closed doors. For whatever reason, such people seek to disengage or are forced to disengage. Maybe it is burn-out, lack of energy, or illness. Perhaps it is insufficient finances or the absence of a caring family. And for some seniors who have made this choice, the end of generativity may have come earlier in life.

We have found that the 50 Senior Sage leaders (ages 56 and older) in our Western Nevada County, California, project are too busy to fall into despair or worry about pending death. They are fully engaged in leading social reform and other forms of community service. They have made the choice—usually conscious—that “Withdrawal is not for me!” They aren’t going to stop now, at this point in their lives. And in so doing, they have helped to identify the fourth set of generativity roles for which the citizens of Nevada City and other communities should be grateful.

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