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Senior Viewpoint: Navigating the New Give-and-Take, John Olesnavage

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We spend a lifetime learning how to be independent and self-sufficient. We are taught to rely on our own wits and resources to take care of ourselves and those we love. Forget Spiderman and Batman, MacGyver is the real American hero! Give him a stick of gum, a can of paint, or a roll of duct tape, and he can conquer any obstacle.

As we mature, we take pride in standing on “our own two feet.” Then time marches us along into the “golden years.” We may start losing our car keys and forget about that doctor’s appointment we needed to keep. A few short years later, we may find ourselves standing on the corner of Main St. and Vine, gripping our cane tightly, not sure we can make it across the street before the light changes. A man stops his car, gets out and stands there like a crossing guard until we safely make it across. Head down, resolute, we shuffle forward, not daring to look up at the light or the traffic. We nod at the man as we shuffle past him, and mumble thank you, but what we feel is diminished and somewhat ashamed. So much for being self-sufficient! We are more likely at the mercy of our own failing body. How do we reconcile or make lemonade out of this lemon?

We have a choice. We can resent growing old and in need of help, or we can see the strength and power in letting others help us. Let’s look at how that works.

It starts with understanding the co-creative nature of a helping relationship. Co-creative means that both parties are stretching beyond what is expected and giving of their time and talent. We know the gift/assistance we have received, but what do we, the receiver of this generosity, give back?

We give the gift of helping someone else feel needed, appreciated, and in a real way, powerful. That is why resenting their help diminishes not only their gift, but they themselves. Doing so is missing a life-affirming connection. Did you ever give someone a gift and see them never even take it out of the box? I did, and felt hurt for a long time.

When we give the gift of letting someone help us, we are also co-creating some new space. That space is quite magical. It has the power to transform a mundane act such as holding a door open into an act of affirmation, maybe even healing. We are receiving while we are also giving. This is “Co-creation 101.” It means letting go of pride, yes, but it also means bestowing some pride on someone else. It calls for some vulnerability, yes, but also a realization that something bigger than a door being opened is going on.

And, while we are making that giver-of help feel powerful and good, who has the greater power? It may well be the person gripping the cane, or, could we call it a wizard’s wand? Eat your heart out MacGyver! But, remember, that wand works best with a light touch. Too much power (or pride in what you can do for the other person) will also diminish the gift.

We are taught to be self-sufficient, but the real strength is in knowing how to form co-created relationships.

John Olesnavage, author of Ask* your Powerful Question, is a psychologist, educator, and author who follows his own Powerful Question “each-and-every-day.” John also wrote Our Boundary, a book describing his ground-breaking, boundary-based approach to counseling.

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

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