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Spring 2013

October Current Thinking Column

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Exploring the “Troisieme”

by Leslie Dashew


As I find myself in the “troisieme,” or the last third of my own life, I find that I am trending along with the majority demographics right now. That is, I am a “baby boomer” and my peers are exploring how to find meaning and impact during our longer lives. 

Why is this important? If we hold on to our leadership roles and do not work on transitioning, we keep the next generation from having their chance to lead during their generative years. As an example, I recently saw a production of a play entitled Charles III about the supposed death of Queen Elizabeth and the succession of her son, Charles. However, that transition happened when Charles was an “old man,” and the next generation (his kids) were of the age at which they thought they should be ascending to the throne. Charles waited to have his chance, only to be seen as out of touch with the realities of the current political environment. 

Since it is likely that many of us will live well into our nineties, even exceeding 100 years of age, it is important that we plan not only for our financial security and medical needs, but also for a life of meaning. Erik Erickson, the noted developmental psychologist, told us that each age of our lives has a unique challenge to resolve. In the elder years, the dilemma is “integrity vs. despair.” If we can look at our lives and feel we are living in accordance with our values and using our waning energy toward those values, then we experience the joy and peace that comes with integrity. On the other hand, if we only look at our losses and what we can no longer accomplish, we despair. The ability to accommodate the evolving reality that we are experiencing with an attitude of acceptance and appreciation, while supporting the following generations with our wisdom and love allows us to gracefully age. 

Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist who died early in her elderhood (just a few years ago), did a seminar on the second half of life that I attended some years ago. She pointed to some of the touchstones and opportunities that our later years provide for us. Some of her comments that resonated with me are the following: 

Before I explore meaning, I have to explore authenticity. Allegiance to honesty and integrity is greater than stubbornness and pride.

I see the stubbornness and pride in some elders who feel that holding on to power and control is the only way to continue to have impact and meaning. Having the courage to honestly look at the world today and authentically and openly recognize our own abilities/limitations allows us to stay connected to younger generations and our peers in very significant ways. 

The mark of wisdom is a person in the second half of life who is committed to being a unifying force, creative and solution-oriented. Wisdom is not age-bound. Every culture (except ours), respects elders. We need to develop intergenerational, multi-disciplinary, and multi-cultural councils to solve problems. 

When we can connect across generations in an organized manner and share the wisdom we are harvesting, we enable future generations to consider how to apply that wisdom in arenas we have not played. The combination of wisdom of the elderly with the understanding of today’s world is magical.

We cannot have wisdom without integrity and character. And it is never found in the extremes. Nor is it found in states of indulgence or denial. When in denial or indulgence, we normalize the abnormal, taking us out of our integrity base. It is always found trying to hold all the options and possibilities to find an elegant solution. 

Finding the way to make connections, come to middle ground, and being a force for “and” rather than “but” is a great gift that comes from seeing the benefits of collaboration over conflict.

Reciprocal mutuality is coded in our genetics—to help one another. In the second part of life, generativity includes passing on the family stories. We begin to harvest our journey, mend our life, and tell the stories that transmit the values and lessons learned. Young people often love to hear the stories of their ancestors and what contributed to their lives. Through this generativity, we can lead the process of healing schisms. We can encourage compassion and mutual understanding. We can demonstrate that our lives are more productive when we engage others in this mutual appreciation and complementary roles.

We have much to do in this stage of life. It is important that we identify what it is that we wish to leave as a legacy and how we can support the next generations in their work. Since living this long is a new phenomenon, we have few role models to guide us. Rather, our exploration and travels offer paths for others to consider as they approach this age as well. 

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