Odysseys for the Soul


We Are the Ones — Working Together

by Jan Hively and Moira Allan

Jan Hively

Jan’s Story

I progress in life from one “Aha!” to another as I read or hear wise words that speak to my experience and generate a new way of looking at the world. Thirty years ago, in my fifties, as a community planner, I felt deeply moved when I read these words from a Hopi Elder: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” I wrote them on a scrap of paper that I’d pull out at often sparsely attended workshops. I’d read the quote, and say, “However many of us are here, we are the ones we have been waiting for.” The words framed a challenge for the session and boosted collaboration.

Later, in my sixties, for my PhD dissertation, I decided to look at how older adults in rural communities were coping with the fact that young people had moved to the cities, leaving them behind to care for themselves in old age. If and when they needed help, who was taking care of them? State officials talked about rapid aging as the biggest problem facing rural America.

Vital Aging

My survey findings were amazing. Up into their 80s, three-fourths of the older adults in rural areas reported being healthy and active, and over 90 percent said that they were self-sufficient, in control of their lives, and feeling positive about life. In comparison with older adults in the cities and suburbs, those in rural areas were staying on the job longer, volunteering more, spending more time caring for their grandchildren, and doing more caregiving for the sick and disabled. These productive elders in rural communities were sharing their strengths to help themselves, each other, and their communities. They were the only ones there to do the job. They were the ones they had been waiting for! What a contrast to the scene of elderhood in Thomas Cole’s nineteenth-century series of paintings, “The Voyage of Life,” where the image of the fourth stage of life is represented as a lonely old man, becalmed in a battered boat, eyes directed only toward the afterlife in the Kingdom of Heaven — as if life on Earth no longer had anything to offer!

Armed with the survey results and a PhD, I started a statewide Vital Aging Network in 2001 to work with older adults and promote what was most important to them: self-determination, self-sufficiency, and community participation. Fortunately, leaders of the needs-based senior services system saw that our efforts to build on the strengths of older adults were complementary to theirs. Generated by older adult leadership, energy flowed through an expanding network of programs supporting and advocating productive aging.

Travel to Paris

In July 2009, in my new-found career as a gerontologist, I traveled to Paris along with 6,000 others attending the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) conference. One big reason for my attending was to spend time with a friend and colleague, Moira Allan, in her totally charming rooftop flat looking out at the Eiffel Tower on one side and at Les Invalides on the other. Another was to find like-minded colleagues who shared my interest in engaging older adult leadership for positive aging.

For four days, I trudged up and down stairs and in and out of Metro trains to attend conference sessions in the huge Palais de Congrès. Although full-time employment kept her from attending the conference, Moira is an eager advocate for positive aging as a life planning coach and coordinator for the European 2Young2Retire Network. Each evening, Moira listened to me rant about the absence of conference presentations about the assets and productivity of older adults. I mentioned that a few older adults had stood up in workshops and asked for information about programs building on older adult strengths and/or encouraging older adult leadership. The panelists appeared to be surprised by these requests and distanced from collaboration with older adults.

“We Are the Ones” Network

Moira responded to my complaints by saying that she wasn’t surprised by my conference experience. “Ageism is even more stifling in Europe than in the U.S. What are we going to do about it?”

Moira went on to say that she had been struck by the Hopi Elder statement, “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” that I’d quoted at the Positive Aging Conference in Florida in 2007, where the two of us had met. Then age 63, she said, “We are the ones! Let’s invite older adults throughout the world to join us in a global network that transforms expectations for aging!”

And so we spent the next few days brainstorming ideas and then clarifying our answers to these questions:

  • Who are “we”?
  • What are our values?
  • What do we expect?
  • What resources do we need to support an international network?
  • What is the program?
  • What will be the products and outcomes for participants?

The answers that I took back to the U.S. are shown on the table at the end of this article. They fit with our mission statement for the We Are the Ones Network:

We are an international network of people in midlife and beyond who are willing to step forward as life-affirming leaders to work on team projects that strengthen local communities and raise expectations for generativity in later life.

Lots of blanks needed to be filled in. Both Moira and I worked on a proposal for a network that would collect information about best practices related to our mission, and then disseminate replication guides via a Web site and a liaison in each country. As a flat, peer-to-peer network, relationships and information should flow freely based on the energy and commitment of participants. A Leadership Group would link key connectors in a number of starter locations. The operating language would be English.

European Voices for Active Aging (EVAA)

Moira and I circulated a “We Are the Ones Network” proposal for Europe early in 2010 for review and comment. Based on our interest in hosting conversations about positive aging with older adults and community leaders throughout Europe, we added a partner, Patricia Munro, Munich resident and founding board member of World Café Europe. Working through World Café Europe, we submitted a proposal to the European Commission for organizing World Cafés in six European countries during 2012, the Year of Active Aging and Intergenerational Solidarity as designated by the European Union.

Titled “European Voices for Active Aging,” the project was one of seven proposals funded by the European Commission. Working with partner organizations in each country, using both English and the home language in each location, World Café Europe collected perspectives on six topics foundational to Active Aging:

  • Bilbao, Spain: Social Innovation
  • Bonn, Germany: Civic Engagement
  • Prague, Czechoslovakia: Age-Friendly Communities
  • London, UK: Ageism
  • Bologna, Italy: Work/Productivity
  • Strasbourg, France: Exercise, Creativity, and Wellness

Representatives from the six countries reviewed the ideas that were generated by the World Cafés. At a summary session, they discussed what steps they wanted to take toward formation of a European active aging network. As Pat Munro put it, looking into the future the EVAA project is just the beginning of a wave of change that we hope to help occur in Europe developing the ideas, projects, and visions that have emerged from the six World Cafés.

At Bilbao World Café in Spain: The team of organizers and partners from six European countries responsible for the EVAA project.[Move your cursor over the image to find Moira Allan (left), Jan Hively (right), and Pat Munro of the World Café Europe (far right).]

What’s next?

Moira and I have talked about other overtures that would fit with the mission of the We Are the Ones Network. We would like to create an innovations toolbox of free program replication guides, in collaboration with the directors of programs that are proven to be successful in promoting self-determination, civic engagement, and personal enrichment for and with older adults age 55+. The guides would be posted on a Web site with translations available in several languages. So far, we’ve identified a half dozen community-based projects and a few curricula for experiential learning for the online toolkit. Another proposed initiative is a worldwide inquiry into changing expectations for later life involving videotaped interviews that would be repeated at three-year intervals between now and 2030.

Lessons along the Way

Before traveling to Paris in 2009, I never would have dreamed about creating a global network. “Who? Me? Isn’t that grandiose?” I’ve thought about what led to my taking on that huge challenge. Here are some reasons I’ve thought of:

  • I was challenged. “So what can we do about it?”
  • I had someone with complementary ideas to talk over the details . . . . The conversation flowed!
  • We put it on paper and sent it to other people for review, thus declaring a commitment.
  • Technology has made global communication easy. Moira has an international phone line with all the phone time she wants for one monthly fee. We can Skype and set up conference calls with network liaisons around the world. And e-mail makes communication between countries as easy as between the coasts.
  • I am very, very fortunate to speak English. What a luxury it is to have everyone else do the translating!
  • Paris sets the scene for doing something exciting!

I want to emphasize the basic message of “We are the ones.” It’s all about trusting that what we have to offer is enough — which is not to say we couldn’t use a few allies — but it’s important to know ourselves and trust who we are. If we older adults work together, sharing our strengths, we can dramatically improve expectations for aging worldwide.

Hopi Elder Speaks

You have been telling the people that this is the eleventh hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is the hour
And there are things to be considered...

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth,
To create your communities,
To be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for a leader.

Then he clasped his hands together and laughed and said,
This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast. 
It is so great and swift, that there are those who will be afraid. 
They will try to hold on to the shore. 
They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. 
Know the river has its destination. 

The elders say we must let go of the shore—
        push off into the middle of the river, 
        keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. 
See who is in there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all, ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
Gather yourselves;
Banish the word "struggle" from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we’ve been waiting for!

Moira Allan

Moira’s Story

I’d love to add a few words on the magic of traveling with purpose — both virtually and actually — and the amazing connectivity this can bring you.

Let’s begin with my adventure: When I hit 60 I started looking for a new direction. A South African living and working in Paris for 30 years, classic retirement looming up and knowing that I would need to keep on a “lifelong learning, lifelong earning” path, I surfed the net and soon found myself in telephone conversation with Howard Stone, founder with his wife, Marika, of 2Young2Retire, pioneers in the field of relooking at retirement and rebuilding it with a cement of purpose, meaning, and contribution.

He invited me to follow a very affordable 6-week facilitators’ course by telephone. I joined and made 12 new virtual friends, including my own special buddy, Jean Gilhead, who was phoning in from Spain. Toward the end, Howard announced he had arranged to piggy-back the first ever positive aging conference to be held at Eckerd College, Saint Petersburg, Florida, in December 2007. My hair was just growing back after a bout of chemo and I decided to go. It was the best decision I have ever made.

That trip to the Florida crystallized the growing excitement I was feeling about positive aging and changed the course of my life. I met the 2Young2Retire founders Howard and Marika Stone and my “virtual buddies” and felt as though I had come home, the bonding was so strong. I was introduced to the Life Planning Network, AARP, Civic Ventures and the people from OLLI; I met Meg Newhouse, Marc Freedman, the late Dr. Gene Cohen, Judy Goggin, Jan Fulwiler, Rick Moody, Helen Dennis, Karen Greer, Judy Lipp, Pat Samples, and Jan Hively. There was an incredible sense of purpose, generosity, sharing, and community. My “Aha” moment came listening to Jan Hively’s presentation on “The Role of Meaningful Work in Third Age Planning.” I went up to her and left her my card as director of GIMAC Santé an Travail, member of a professional federation representing 250+ occupational health doctors who are responsible for 3+ million workers within the Paris metropolitan area. I invited Jan to look me up when she was in Europe, and she did.

I walked out of that meeting room and into the beautiful Eckerd campus gardens with two key ideas mulling in my mind: “meaningful work paid or unpaid through to the last breath” and “we are the ones.”

We’ve moved a long way since then. Jan’s been to Paris three times, and I’ve had the opportunity of visiting Germany, the Czech Republic, Spain, England, and Italy within the framework of the EVAA project that Jan talks about, as well as traveling to South Africa several times. Each trip yields a harvest of new contacts, new ideas, and synergies. When there’s a common interest, the bonding is very strong and enables you to penetrate other communities in a way that straightforward tourism could never allow.

I started my career as a journalist. I love spreading stories and, with Jan, my association “Le Cercle des Seniors Actifs” in Paris, and our 2Young 2Retire European network, that is exactly what I am doing now, in this my fifth career: discovering and passing on stories of sustainable, workable, replicable projects in positive aging and multiplying their impact wherever they may be found, whether it be in the Unites States through Jan Hively, or in Europe, with our many partners including World Café Europe and Old-Up in France; or in my home country South Africa with Lynda Smith, founder of the Refirement Network; or in Russia, where, through Jan, we have a special relationship with Dr. Gulnara Minnigaleeva, founder of “Wisdom Ripening,” an organization of retired people in Bashkortostan, Russian Federation, and a research fellow at the Centre for Studies of Civil Society and the Nonprofit Sector at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow.

Longevity is a totally unprecedented worldwide phenomenon; there is an urgency to find out what’s working and pass it on. The other aspect is that every single adult, whether we are older or younger adults, has a total responsibility, both to self and to community, to be involved and to make a contribution.

It is all about the magic of connectivity and moving from “me” to “we.” When we are in community, meeting people and interacting, something greater than me by myself and others by themselves is generated, and when two or three people are gathered the exponential factor comes into play and draws potential into a positive spiral.

In Glasgow, Scotland: (left to right) Moira Allan, Jan Hively with Alain Muir, an innovations advisor, and two colleagues. The connection was the role of seniors in the work place.

You’re Invited

Please step forward and become one of the “we.” We are asking you and other readers of this story to get involved and contribute your ideas about next steps to pursue the mission of the We Are the Ones Network that is described below. If you’d like to join us on this adventure, please contact Jan Hively or Moira Allan.

We also invite you to check out the following Web sites:

We are the ones we have been waiting for, all of us, working together!

We Are the Ones Network

Mission: We are an international network of people in midlife and beyond who are willing to step forward as life-affirming leaders to work on team projects that strengthen local communities and raise expectations for generativity in later life.

Who Are “We”?

What Are Our Values?

What do we expect?

A global network of older adults, in midlife and beyond, who enjoy working together to create a life-affirming future for all.

We are the ones who:

..Shift expectations from work & retirement to positive & productive aging

..Become catalysts for community change

..Engage in meaningful work, whether paid or unpaid

..Understand the power and magic of working together and sharing strengths

..Create a culture of positive expectations about the role of older adults in society

..Feel excited about the opportunities and challenges of the longevity evolution

..Seize opportunities for entrepreneurship

..Tune into international developments and build bridges across frontiers

..Seek out, analyze, and adapt successful projects for local environments

..Strengthen communities by working with wisdom and other existing assets

..Demonstrate the truth that small acts when multiplied can transform the world

..Accept and practice the premise that everyone is a teacher and a learner

..Walk the talk

Promoting self-determination and active aging for and with older adults

Assuring both consistency and flexibility

Paying attention to the small things

Expressing gratitude and appreciation

Focusing on what we have and can do

Appreciating the dynamics of change and concentrating on the positive

Using the power of story

Understanding the power of the catalyst

Believing in small life-affirming acts

Honoring our oneness with one another, with animals, with plants and all aspects of nature

Affirming the flow of energy throughout life

Understanding that diversity is essential for progress

Seeing the groundswell of support for moving from “me” to “we”

Welcoming anyone who wants to become one of the “we”

Listening with respect for others

Believing a leader is anyone wanting to help & willing to step forward to create change

The flow of energy that comes from stretching to achieve challenging goals

A sense of purpose expressed through productive individual & team effort

Creative use of our senses through imaginative and flexible work and play

Personal growth and productivity as we share what we know and learn by doing

Uplifting joy and affirmation based on the opportunity for generativity in later life

Meaningful work, paid or unpaid, through the last breath

Jan Hively lives up to her personal credo of maximizing productivity and assuring “meaningful work, paid or unpaid, through the last breath.” After playing leadership roles in government and education for more than two decades, Hively received her PhD in Education for Work and Community from the University of Minnesota in 2001 at age 69. During the last decade, she has co-founded three organizations dedicated to empowering older adults: the Vital Aging Network that promotes self-determination, community participation, and personal enrichment through education and advocacy; the Minnesota Creative Arts and Aging Network, now called Artsage, dedicated to expanding opportunities for creative expression by older adults; and the SHiFT network empowering midlife transitions in life and work. Now living on Cape Cod, Jan has recently focused on engaging older adult leadership through global networking, as described in her story. E-mail her at HIVEL001@umn.edu.

Moira Allan, the founder of 2Young2Retire Europe (Cercle des Seniors Actifs), is currently winding up a 10-year spell as director of an occupational health organization located in Paris. Previously she worked as a journalist and public relations consultant with a client base in France and in South Africa. She holds a degree in professional coaching from the Paris 8 University, is a member of the Association European de Coaching and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council.