Relationship Resource Center
RELATIONSHIP REFLECTIONS

Elderhood and Community

I think it is at the stage of Elderhood that the paucity of community in our lives is felt the strongest. Elders know that we cannot fully live alone, and that the nuclear family structure as “the realm of the sacred” as one writer referred to it, is an emotionally impoverished holdover from the relatively recent past. It is a product of the great experiment of modernity and was not supplanted by the variety of postmodern experiments from the 1960s onward. “Unrelated people living together” was mostly zoned out of existence by neighborhood groups and zoning boards with a decided preference for two adults with or without children occupying thousands of square feet in single family dwellings! The nuclear family, invented to serve the needs of all-consuming capitalism, has succeeded admirably in eradicating or severely weakening traditional bulwarks of community, including the extended family and church communities as well as many secular forms of association that people enjoyed in the slightly more distant past.

integration

The reality is that neither traditionals nor the modernists nor the hippies could successfully evolve the communities that are needed today, although each of these earlier stages of consciousness has something to offer, especially with regard to their core values. Traditional cultures knew that we cannot survive without depending on one another. They could not see that the tribal proscriptions against outsiders unfortunately locked people in and out from the wider world. The modern nuclear family offered more flexibility of movement for small families as well as the ability to take a world-centric view of the needs of others. Unfortunately, the unbridled capitalism of modernity sanctioned extreme competitiveness and inequality. Post-modern consciousness went even further in valuing diversity and inclusiveness, but did not have the “chicken wire,” the scaffolding, the natural hierarchy necessary for community to develop beyond isolated experiments.
Thus, elders today see the need to develop new “integral” forms of community that include the positive elements offered by each of the preceding worldview’s forms of community and offer wider, higher and deeper perspectives that can enable communities and the individuals who participate in them to thrive and grow at ever-expanding levels.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker