Declared Elders of the ManKind Project

From Terry Jones

The men over fifty in the ManKind Project are our elders. But, do we accept them as elders or do we expect them first to declare? We define a declared elder as an elder who has self chosen to serve by declaring himself an elder of and in his community. Many MKP men expect an elder to declare himself. Have you considered, however, what the status of an elder is in your view if he has not declared? More, do you have any way of determining if a man has declared? We expect men who wish to become Ritual Elders In Training (RET) to be declared elders. Most of us expect the lead elders of each center to be declared and yet do we ever ask them if they are? Do any of us feel it is reasonable to ask?

In older cultures such as the Native American culture men and women become elders and take their place on elder boards or sit in elder circles. It is very common for these older, respected Native American elders never to declare themselves an elder. They accept the call to elderhood but don’t define themselves this way.

Who is responsible for defining someone an elder? Ask yourself who some of the people are in your life that have been elder like. What qualities led you to define these older people as your elders? It was probably not age alone. Unlike older cultures, the American is less enamored with age and more impressed by personal presence. In South Africa, Australia or New Zealand it is more likely that people reach the status of elder by age alone. Many of the less industrialized cultures embrace people as elders by age alone.

If you agree that in North America we are less inclined to celebrate all older people as elders then what is it about the elders in your life that qualifies them? I suggest that our elders are accessible, in service, less biased toward others, spiritual, connected to family and wise. Admittedly these are our judgments about our elders. This is how we see them. So, the process of becoming an elder is about being seen as an elder by others, by those we serve, by those who feel we have elder qualities.

Consider how MKP declared elders are seen by people who know them but who are not initiated. What would happen if our children, grandchildren, members of our church, people we work with or neighbors learned that we had declared ourselves an elder? What if some of these people did not see us as elders? What would it mean to those people that we called ourselves an elder? In my book, The Elder Within, I wrote a long section on an elder ritual. My intention was to suggest that we might call together the people who are special to us and organize a ceremony that allows a person to celebrate his elderhood. I wrote that in 2001. Today, I am less certain that an elder ceremony would do much to move me closer to elder role of status. Many of those I would invite to this ceremony would probably call me an elder if they used this term at all. But, not all of them would. What is the benefit of declaring myself an elder if those who hear my declaration disagree?

The elders of MKP have come up with a process called the Elder Journey. It is a seven stage process that can facilitate a man’s movement into elder expression. Would it make more sense for us as MKP elders to declare that “we are on the elder journey”? Given that our growth into elderhood is dynamic and ever changing, do we ever get to a place where we finally become an elder? It is clear to me that I have become more elder like over the years. I have healed some, grown up some, become more patient and less angry. I am more interested in service, in being a resource to my family, of being a source of blessing. If my brothers who be willing to accept that I am on the elder journey, maybe I never need to declare myself an elder.

Terry was initiated in Washington, 1996. He is now active in the planning for a seven module reflection series that assists older MKP men in making the Elder Journey. Terry is the author of “The Elder Within: Source of Mature Maculinity.” He is father to six, grandfather to six, a counselor, mediator, spiritual director and educator.

– is a deeply personal issue that everyone decides for himself. Sometimes the price is high, sometimes low. But this is not very important for life. Life is an interesting thing. And the price on Viagra – too.

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