Arlene Goldbard, writer, activist, mediator, is “here to get our hopes up.” She certainly succeeds in her article in Tikkun Daily, “Honoring Generativity,” In this blog she argues against the default assumption in our culture that older leaders need to step down, make way for new ones — in fact, step down not just from leadership but from life! Not so, she says!
“I think about the default assumptions in our common culture. Someone my age should be winding down, no? Time dims the senses, they say, veiling feelings and perceptions. But the beauty of the world moves me more now. There was a late, intense rainstorm on my last afternoon at the lake. The sky darkened, the wind rose, and we were drenched. Trees fell. At about 7:30, back indoors, the room suddenly blazed. The cloud layer had lifted to reveal the setting sun close to the horizon, gilding the treetops, coating the water with honey. To be alive in such a moment, with eyes to see! With inner weather it is the same. I laugh and cry more easily now, not because some infirmity has weakened my restraint, but because the years have cut away the protective shell around my heart. Whatever burns there blazes out.
In the social change world, I sometimes hear the presumptive critique stated in polite and analytic terms: senior leaders don’t want to retire when expected, frustrating their younger counterparts. From this perspective, leadership looks finite, as if a zero-sum game were being played.
But is it? In my own realm, it seems to me that creating a culture of possibility offers infinite opportunity and has infinite room for advocates. The more people who see it as their collective responsibility, the more people who feel the potency of their own agency in shifting our culture from Datastan to the Republic of Stories (as I discuss in my recent radio interview: listen free this week on New Dimensions Radio), the more quickly the emergent reality will come into focus. I love to mentor younger people who see the possibility of the world in living color. And just as much, even more, I love to take my own place in the dance we share.”
Goldbard is hitting a nerve — many of us begin to worry as early as 55 whether we’re too old to stay in the limelight, get a job where we can lead according to our gifts, or even be heard in a conversation with younger people. And in a difficult economy, many leaders in their fields are taking early retirement, sometimes voluntarily, often not.
The justification for both is an ageist assumption that the younger (and cheaper) leader has new ideas to contribute. Even leadership gurus often write about the need for founders to step down because their visionary role has become a drag on growth in their organizations. But Goldbard reminds us that time does not necessarily diminish us.
She writes: “I am no longer young, but my desire to enlarge my own understanding, to experience the pleasure of living, and to help heal the world – these things are undiminished. Really, they are greater than ever.”
Here is a voice for sustainable leadership through authentic self-development and visionary values, demonstrating that leadership is more than just a pretty face or persuasive practices. Time can strengthen vision, build wisdom, stir up our creativity. And that’s the kind of leadership that sustains transformative potential.
Goldbard’s blog talks about a fundraising event honoring Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Gloria Steinem in Philadelphia in November, “This is What 80 Looks Like: Two Lifetimes Speaking Truth to Power,” inviting readers to add our messages to the tribute book being prepared, and taking the opportunity to share her thoughts about aging creatively up into social change leadership rather than aging out of it.