Wisdom of the Elders

Both elders and our youth can inspire, says Paddy Murray, and all men need to be able to see themselves as inspiring.

“Thank goodness they don’t,” said Jim.  It was in response to an onlooker’s statement: “‘They don’t make steel like they used to.” It was at a country fair, at one of Jim’s many blacksmithing demonstrations. Jim was my blacksmithing teacher and a source of much wisdom. Later, he told me, “I get sick of men saying that. The truth is, that old steel was pretty crap and modern steel is much better.”

“Thank goodness they don’t” is one of those sayings that has stuck around for me. So when I hear people say the young generation of today is not as good as those gone buy it comes back to me. My experience of the younger generation is a positive one—they are better equipped to face the future than my generation.

One story says it all for me. I was in a large tent at a father and son initiation event run by Pathways in Australia. My son Zac, 14 years, was with me. Dennis, the 45 year old cook at the camp, had come to tell the boys a story. He told about being gay in a country town and not being able to tell his family. It was only in his late twenties that he plucked up the courage at a family dinner to tell them that he was gay. He told the boys about how frightened he had been of his father’s possible response.

One of the kids stood up and said that he was proud of Dennis for his courage to tell such a moving story to a bunch of youngsters and their dads, who were strangers. All the boys spontaneously stood up clapping and cheering Dennis. I was so proud of those boys for demonstrating acceptance, love and courage. I have other stories that for me generate faith in our young men; it is not a one-off or rare event.

I am a 66 year old man. Much more is expected of men now than thirty years ago. In my experience, the subject has grown as I’ve aged to include issues like integrity, ethics, authenticity, and honesty.Men feel more social pride in being male and having a sense of what being a good male is about, including the importance of being a great dad.

The 1980s was a time of confusion for men, very much a fearful reaction to the rising social phenomena of feminism. There was much dodging the issue of men being accountable and grieving at the demise of masculinity as we knew it. A difficult time for many of us, pushing us to explore, reflect, and redefine ourselves.

For the future of manhood, let’s hope that we never stop challenging men and being forced to redefine ourselves. Let’s do better than that: let’s make sure that we never again settle on a fixed sense of what it is to be a man.

In a way, to become the male that society needs, we need to forget our ideas of what those identities require, and to simply be authentically ourselves. I was asked once by a young psychologist, “Are you a Buddhist psychotherapist?” I replied, “No, I am a Buddhist who is a therapist.” Likewise, I am a human first and a male second. My maleness, penis, associated hormones, and brain structure are just part of the kit that is with  me on my wondrous journey through life. Following my passions, being authentic, ethical, and discovering my deeper reality and connection to all things, not being stuck on any identity, is who I am, and my future. We know that humanity has many different types of masculine and feminine, men and women. Being true to whatever that is for each of us is the way forward.

At the same time that I admire the youth for their abilities to face the future, I look back and see how important older men are as role models for our younger men. How important it is for us to keep being our passionate and courageous selves. How important it is to support and inspire men of all ages.
My current focus is researching men’s groups as a vehicle of support and growth. I recently started a group with the aim of training men in leadership and facilitation skills for groups. “In The Cave” is a blog I am developing as a vehicle for a wide range of resources on men’s groups. I love to write and express myself and the blog will be a way for me to explore my passions. Videos of men talking about a variety of issues will be a large part of the content, as I find these presentations more personal, and moving beyond text.

I recently retired from being a volunteer Buddhist chaplain after six years running men’s groups in in a maximum security prison, using Buddhist philosophy and meditation as a framework. Our men in prison are a much neglected group. I would like to see the men’s movement become more active in prisons.

The problem of violence and abuse among Aboriginal Australian men, especially in remote country areas is another interest of mine. I and a few other men are trying to negotiate with the government to try some of the men’s group approach in a remote town with lots of violence. It might not get legs, as it is seen as radical, but it is about giving it a go, to keep on trying, knowing that sooner or later will see the success of an idea whose time has come. I hope that others witnessing the attempt will be inspired to follow their own passions.


—Photo: kewl/Flickr

About Paddy Murray

Therapist, mentor, writer, baker builder. Seventy years old and believe us older men need to pass our stories on. Building my new house on the coast of Eastern Tasmania


  1. I have nothing to share. There is nothing special about me at all. How could I possibly be inspiring? This isn’t a solution that’s going to be helpful for mediocre, boring drones like myself.

    • Valter Viglietti says:

      @Bob-O: “I have nothing to share.”

      I respectfully disagree.
      Although I don’t know you, I think even “mediocre” people have something good to share. Remember that “mediocre”, or “average”, people are the majority (thanks to statistics 😉 ).
      I think being “mediocre” means you have (or do) something good and something not-so-good (like most people, actually). Thus, you think your “bottom line” is around zero (some plus, some minus).
      But the good you do (or are) is different from the good of someone else: hence your own “good part” can be inspiring to someone else.

      Since we’re all different somehow, what is a given and just normal act to me, can be meaningful and uplifting to someone else.
      Maybe you don’t realize (yet) that you have your own gifts; maybe you don’t have around you people who can notice those gifts or aren’t able to express appreciation.
      This doesn’t mean those gifts aren’t there; it just means they aren’t acknowledged yet. Sometimes we have gold in our hands, but we think it’s just rocks.

      I believe that, unless you’re the worst and most negative person in the world (and that would make you someone “special”, not mediocre 😉 ), you must have some positive, good, productive trait.
      Even the smallest act have the potential to create goodness.
      Being good doesn’t mean being special; being good means making others feel good, or better.
      Do you never ever make someone feel good? I dont think so. 🙂

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