Many cultures have a custom of honoring those older in community as elders. And elder has a connotation to it that leaves a sense in the mouth of wisdom, life experience, and worthiness of respect because they have made the journey for many years. In this connotation is a belief the persons have a value meant to be passed on. It is as though they have reconnoitered the land we are just beginning to tread.

In America the place of our seniors has been challenged. We are a free market society where each individual is honored for having control over their future, their success and what constitutes their personal stability. Working hard and working smart for what we want is esteemed highly, and considered the way success is achieved.

This is not unilaterally true, but there is truth in the observation. For years and years people of other nations have seen America as the place of ‘freedom and democracy,’ a place where one can achieve their dreams. These are qualities worth preserving as a way we can mature as a nation. The downside of this personal agency is the relative dismissal of the community as a collection of people all having something valuable to bring to the table. And when someone loses their ability to perform in the ways society sees as valuable, that very someone may be considered a burden or even one in need.

The middle ground is the constant invitation. To preserve free market and to preserve the value of each person based on another set of criteria instead of only one set of social norms.

Could we possibly create a new way to look at the seniors in our midst? Even if they may not be able, or want to, run a corporation to make multi-million dollar profits, they do have unique gifts to share to remind us of what life is about.

As the American dream breaks down before our eyes we have the chance to let the shakeup lead us to a new paradigm. One factor would be to redefine our relationship to those aging among us.

Elders. We could begin to see seniors as elders. The very word differs from the latter. Senior denotes a chronological fact. Elder connotes a relationship to those around them.

Beginning to shift this term leads to practical implications. It leads us to ask different questions. Instead of asking, ‘What nursing home will take care of our seniors?’ We could ask, ‘What type of medical care would preserve the health of our elders so we can continue to have them and their gifts among us?’

This new question leads down a very new road, already paved with alternative modalities for health, new research in the field of gerontology, and even options of social paradigms offering a quality of life for our elders happening in our very midst.

Let’s ask new questions, therein we find answers to a new paradigm to honor our elders.