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"The elders in a society, says Bill Plotkin, traditionally speak for the wider concerns of the earth, calling others to a deeper respect for life. They have internalized (and outgrown) the institutions that once defined them, citizens now of a larger community. They don't belong anymore to the academy or the workplace, nor exclusively to the nation or church that previously framed their identity. Their life isn't about accomplishment or belonging." Belden Lane
This sounds a little bit like the fourth stage of life in Hinduism, I think. Too bad American society, with its overemphasis on youth, doesn't get it. Of course, given that overemphasis, many of the "elders" in American society hardly fit Plotkin's description.