The subject of civic engagement begs the question of whether the involvements of Sage leaders come at high cost, and whether such sacrifices are off-set by the personal benefits they receive. It is in this domain that we anticipated the greatest differences between Emerging and Senior Sage leaders. Of the 50 Senior Sages who were interviewed, 49 say there is virtually no sacrifice involved, that their civic work is enriching their lives. While the older leaders in most cases are now retired, or at least have fewer family constraints, the 50 younger Emerging Sages are typically in the midst of career demands and family obligations. This suggests that two questions need to be asked: How do they not see civic engagement as yet another pull on their time, talent, and energy? How do they not see this voluntary work as a sacrifice?
The generative motivations that Sage leaders attribute to their civic involvements, and the benefits they receive from them, are closely linked. But benefits possess a different quality than motivations. Emerging and Senior Sage leaders all identify with the rich source of human talent and energy that exists in the community. Like the founders of Grass Valley and Nevada City, they see gold in the foothills—but the gold is human capital rather than a mineral.
We conclude our exploration of civic engagement and Generativity Four by turning once again to the fundamental choice that Erik Erikson first identified when describing the stages of adult development: generativity or stagnation? Virtually all our Senior Sages know persons in the community who possess sage leadership qualities but are far removed from being civically engaged. Senior Sages describe them as affable, generous, and knowledgeable persons but voice frustration in not being able to motivate them: “So why can’t I get them involved? Why don’t they readily recognize the personal benefits that can come from civic engagement?
Dan McAdams and his fellow connoisseurs of generativity have edited an entire book on The Generative Society (St. Aubin, McAdams and Kim, 2004). We will highlight several findings and proposals offered in this book, especially as related to the four roles of generativity we have introduced in this set of essays. We will then turn briefly to the broader consideration of the social-economic structure of a society and the important interplay between social-class and generativity. We conclude with our own thoughts about the nature of a generative society, gaining insights from the generative women and men we interviewed during the Sage project.
Civic engagement and other acts of generativity might be the privilege of social class, rather than being a sign of altruism or personal commitment. Perhaps, as some of our Sage leaders observed, stagnation and the absence of civic engagement might be at least partially attributed to the inability of many people to find time or energy to move beyond their own economic struggles (and to move beyond their own Generativity One role as a challenged provider to their family). We turn to consideration of the important interplay between social-class and generativity, gaining insights from the women and men we interviewed during the Sage project.
We propose in these final essays that Generativity is ultimately about more than child-rearing, organizational leadership, mentoring, preservation of traditions, and civic engagement. It is about something even deeper and more personally transformational. At the heart of the matter are two forms of Generativity that women and men often experience during the middle years of their life: Generativity of Spirit and Generativity of Soul. Spirit is about achievement and about lifting upward. It is the form of generativity that was identified in the earlier essay as Agency. It is about the joy that comes with accomplishment and recognition. It concerns our discovery of higher order truths and our commitment to higher order values that motivate our collaborative work with other people in our family, in our organizations, and in our community. This generativity ensures that our presence is felt in the world, and it often serves as a bridge between Generativity One and Generativity Two.
While Generativity of the Spirit is primarily concerned with accomplishment and agency, Generativity of the Soul concerns connection and communion. It concerns discovery of that about which we truly and deeply care. If Kotre is correct in suggesting that the primary motive behind the generative impulse is a desire to live beyond ourselves, then is the search for soul essentially a quest for some form of immortality? Living in a secular world, is generativity and deep caring the way in which we continue, in some way, to live beyond our death? Generativity resides “on stage” throughout our adult life, but it becomes more powerful and more often at center stage as we grow older. The allure of generativity might increase as we grow older precisely because we come to realize that most of our life lies behind us rather than ahead. We are facing what Rudolph Otto (1923) calls the “numinous”: a great chasm that is devoid of all meaning and that resides at the end of life. We have a strong desire to live somehow beyond our current self and to fill this chasm with generative accomplishments and a lingering memory of good will among those who outlive us.1K Club