In today's reading, Sister Joan raises the question of authority and aging--or more to the point, how, in contemporary culture, aging is associated with increasing obsolescence rather than accruing authority.
I was reminded of Margaret Mead's landmark book, Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap, (1970). In that book she argued that there are three categories of generational interaction that characterize cultures: postfigurative, configurative, and preconfigurative. Stay with me here...
Postfigurative cultures are PAST oriented--the young look to elders as sources of wisdom, values, and authority. Figurative cultures are PRESENT oriented--one looks primarily to their peers (rather than elders) for guidance in life. Prefigurative culture is FUTURE oriented--in this culture there is a drastic, irreversible change in the relationship between generations: it is the young who set the goals and pace for elders to follow. This latter culture is thoroughly unprecedented in human history.
Where do you think we fit these days?
When it comes to the way the ground of everyday experience has shifted out from under our feet due to technological change, it is undeniable that we are in Mead's CONFIGURATIVE culture. That being said, I cannot help but wonder this: for human culture to thrive, don't we need all three of these cultural categories to be in play? It's the interplay and interaction of all three models of authority that provides the conditions for cultural and personal flourishing.
For example, it is so interesting today to see how the voice of the teens from Florida (and rising across the nation) are becoming voices of moral leadership on gun violence. No less interesting are the voices of elder states-men and -women who are raising alarm about the loss of a grander, nobler vision of what it means for us to be citizens worthy of democracy and citizens of the world.
We should be cultivating wisdom at every age in every age. The equation of aging with increasing wisdom is not a given. It is an achievement. If we live unreflective lives, the wisdom of years will escape us. "The unexamined life is not worth living," said Plato. The unreflective life is not worth examining.
How are you cultivating wisdom? What practices of reflection characterize your days? Without such reflection there will be no wisdom. Without such wisdom one's life will not be authoritative. Without such lives, all of life is impoverished. Lord, "teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." (Psalm 90:12)