Generativity-Integrating Spirituality and Activism

~ Lives can illuminate other lives by shedding light on well-traveled paths to successful living ~

By Robin Avery ~

“Generativity,” a term coined by developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, describes a positive creative force in the aging process that contributes much to our lives, our families and culture. In our aging process, the generativity phase occurs when we still have the strength, resources and time to counter the stagnation that so often afflicts late adulthood. The Japanese translate generativity as “sedai-keisho-sei.” “Sedai” means “the generations;” “keisho” means “receiving and putting your stamp on;” and “sei” means “the sense of.”

Simply put, generativity is creativity that lasts! Generativity is putting your stamp on your generation for the benefit of future generations. The generativity process allows one to see a story in life’s chaos and translate that story by identifying the joys, blessings, pitfalls and challenges into a constructive and instructive legacy.

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Generativity-Integrating Spirituality and Activism

Generativity can be tricky and often is a struggle, but it shouldn’t be. To successfully put your stamp on your legacy, one needs to successfully navigate seven steps, according to Dr. John Kotre, the author of “Make it Count – How to Generate a Legacy that Gives Meaning to Your Life.” These steps are:

  • Talking to your past – This leads to coherence in your memories, allowing the next generation to trust you. In the context of mature coping mechanisms, generativity and sublimation, altruism and humor tend to grow together and reinforce each other. There is often an important element of passivity in generativity, in other words, the impulse and direction of a person’s generativity often comes more from listening to one’s own heart. It is very helpful to have a receptive container for this conversation. Try talking about these things with your spouse, your children, your friends.
  • Stopping the damage – By saying, “It stops here. It ends with me,” a generational buffer is created. This can be a complicated and challenging endeavor. But then, as Bette Davis said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” The grandpa who gets angry at a grandchild who isn’t living up to the family’s expectation doesn’t have an easy job. There are dangers that corrupt, but more joys and blessings that line the way of one who would be generative.
  • Finding a voice of your own – Generativity and finding one’s voice are impossible to separate. In that voice, there’s an unwavering confidence and clarity that the next generation trusts. Interestingly enough, the process whereby one finds that voice is often a process of listening. It’s a mindfulness practice that involves listening in relaxation and play. This passive listening often turns into identifying things that “need be done” or even “want done.” It can become quite a passion. It’s like you can’t not do it.
  • Blending that voice with another’s – The very best golfers have a caddy. Someone to help test which way the wind is blowing and which way the ball will roll. This confidant and collaborator is a useful sounding board and catalyst for deeper work.
  • Creating – In all life’s cycles, we demonstrate incredible resourcefulness once we set upon a path of discovery. Plan B follows Plan A when A isn’t working. Intention requires attention like a sharp blade requires a whetstone.
  • Selecting/letting go – Circumstances, memories and personal skills all come into play here, clearly and in the most profound and difficult ways. Parents, especially mothers, often have to make very difficult decisions selecting who goes where, gets what, or moves out. Letting go comes with the territory. The deeper point here is that the process of deciding which part of one’s life story is going to be abandoned, and which stories stay, is honored. In generativity, one can find themselves giving away big components of their lives in order to focus on what must be preserved. Our generativity usually demands a rearrangement of the story, and our ethical sensibilities need to be at the top of their game. Anyone who has started a business – “their baby” – knows how difficult it is to part with it while still maintaining some connection to their creative soul.
  • Responding to Outcome – Generativity is at its core an act of giving. There should be laughter, joy and celebration in a successful life that has consciously worked to leave the best of what one has to give. However, a look at the history of generativity illustrates that there are complex currents to navigate; best done with caution, humility and care. Slight differences in input can have huge differences in output. It is true, the motivation for generativity serves best when detached from the self. Generativity performs best when performed without an attachment to the result.

We fill the world with more than just our bodies and possessions. We fill it with our craft and our heart, as parents, teachers, shepherds, guardians, and guides; as artists and scientists; as responsible citizens and movers and shakers. At the end, can we return this gift of a conscious life showing little wear and tear? Is this the Real Work?

Robin Avery

Robin Avery

Robin Avery is a Wisconsin Badger, the Founder of Shanagolden Management, LLC, a Gerontologist, and Founder of Robin can be reached at

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