Home Concepts Adult Development II. Four Ways to Be Generative

II. Four Ways to Be Generative

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There is a third way in which generativity is expressed, what George Vaillant (2012, p. 155) identifies as guardianship: “Guardians are caretakers. They take responsibility for the cultural values and riches from which we all benefit, offering their concern beyond specific individuals to their culture as a whole; they engage a social radius that extends beyond their immediate personal surroundings.” Their domain of concern is no longer just their family, their organization, or even their community. They now care about the more fundamental legacies in their life and engage this caring through their wisdom and integration of soul and spirit. While this third way to express generativity can be identified as a form of resistance to change, or as an overdose of nostalgia, it also can be seen as an expression of deep caring for that which remains valid in contemporary times and which continues as a source of wisdom regardless of its date of origin or the quaint way in which it is stated, painted, or sung.

Generativity is to be found in yet a fourth way. We witnessed this when we conducted a two-year research project on Community Sage Leadership in Western Nevada County, California. Fifty men and women (ages 25-55) were identified as emerging sage leaders and interviewed in-depth on the same set of key life questions. Another fifty men and women (ages 56-90) from the same communities (Grass Valley and Nevada City, CA) were identified as senior sage community leaders and also were interviewed on these questions. In writing the project book (The Sages Among Us: Harnessing the Power of Civic Engagement), we identified a very powerful, unifying theme—especially among the retired senior sage leaders. These men and women were generative in their care for the community in which they lived. Unlike many other retirees who had retreated into gated retirement communities and often stagnated there, the fifty senior sage leaders found enormous gratification in their involvement with local arts councils, environmental action groups, hospitality organizations, and many other initiatives that enhanced community development.

When we are generative in late midlife we establish, support, or help to expand networking in our community. We move beyond our own family and the organizations in which we have worked. We are particularly suited at this time in our life to such roles as teacher, trainer or coach to the leaders or managers of nonprofit organizations or community action forums. In many cases, as we noted in The Sages Among Us, the role of community-based generativity is not necessarily to start something new, but rather to support and build on that which others have begun—and it is contagious (Quehl and Bergquist, 2012, p. 90):

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