Background to Active Wisdom

This concept of Active Wisdom was first coined by Mary Catherine Bateson in her 2011book Composing a Further Life.  She studied with Erik Erikson, who, in the 1950s, set out a 'life cycle model' that he called The Eight Stages of Man. There are two aspects to this model that have stood the test of time. One was that Erikson identified a virtue and a vulnerability for each stage: the second was the seeing of the 'identity crisis' that young people often experienced when transitioning from Adolescence to Adulthood. 

From her research into how baby boomers were adapting to increasing longevity, she identified a new stage in the model referred to as Adulthood 2. She called the virtue 'Active Wisdom' and the vulnerability  'Withdrawal' from engagement in life. She found that people moving into this stage often experienced an identity crisis.

The 'virtue' of Active Wisdom is concerned with sharing insight gained from rich life experience, combined with new levels of experimenting, travel, study, and a refreshed interest in giving back to others. The "vulnerability" of this stage can be an attendant loss of identity that leads us to withdraw rather than wholeheartedly engage with new possibilities. Active Wisdom brings with it a time of new freedom and new creativity. It often carries a search for increased meaning in our lives, a desire to share our expertise gained, and a heartfelt consideration of the legacy that we wish to leave. 

This research was a vibrant source of insight for our exploration into our Elderhood, and so impactful that we were also called to share it with others.  

Mary Catherine Bateson


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