September 4th 2019

Active Wisdom: An inquiry into elderhood


After retirement – Ann calls it “refirement” – she went back to University. For her Masters in Applied Social Science she interviewed grandparents about the flow of love across the generations. The insight and learning she gained has led her to be actively engaged in an inquiry, with others, into Elderhood.

ACTIVE WISDOM is the term that applies to her work which aims to create a community of people who are curious about their Elderhood and wish to inquire this new stage in their lives.


We are kicking off season 6 of CONSCIOUS AGEING with Ann Roberts who already, 2 years ago, had inspired us with her life story and her work in ACTIVE WISDOM. Yes, once upon a time, old people were considered and appreciated for the wisdom they had gathered through their long life time. Today, their wisdom seems to be somehow unacknowledged or rejected by a hyper active youth culture. Young is good, old is bad. So instead of learning from other peoples’ experience and instead of learning from history, the wheel gets invented anew again and again and the same mistakes are made over and over. 

If elders have no natural place of respect and appreciation in our societies, what to do? Our generation of Babyboomers is experienced in having new ideas and of not accepting societal norms which would put them into the corner of drawing back and be silent. If nobody asks us for our wisdom, we need to step up ourselves and offer it in an appropriate way. As elders, we can use this position to wisely offer our knowledge to the younger generations to give them the trusted help they may need to get oriented in a confusing world. Listening to them and gently guiding them would be the future task of elders who have developed themselves into mature human beings.
This time we are talking about her project of creating a network of people to inquire into elderhood. She starts with a couple of colleagues and offers a 3 months course, a place where people meet live on video and explore together important questions about elderhood. It is not about giving advice or selling solutions. It is about digging deep into the challenges and possibilities which arise when getting older.



After a 30 years career in organisational, team and personal development Ann ‘retired’ from Police Scotland in 2015 from her role as a Leadership Development Consultant.

As she prepared to leave, she realised there was more she wanted to achieve, and so the following September she undertook a Masters in Applied Social Research. She enjoyed the experience, particularly being with young people who helped her find her way in 21st Century academia.

At that time, Ann and her husband had three frail parents in their 90’s, adult children in their 20’s/30’s as well as a growing number of grandchildren. It was challenging time for Ann as she experienced the stretch that many of the baby boomer generation have in supporting different generation at the same time as well as her studies.

Ann’s research led her to the work of Mary Catherine Bateson who proposed a new stage in Erik Erikson’s adult psychosocial development model that she called “Active Wisdom”. This new stage sits between the Erikson’s original mid-life time of Generativity and that of Old Age.  This new stage arises due to the healthy longevity that many of Ann’s generation now enjoy.

Mary Catherine describes the “virtue” of Active Wisdom as being about 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 whole-heartedly engage with new possibilities.

Finding this research was pivotal in helping Ann to understand this stage in her life and led to her passion to explore this concept in a new on-line programme called Active Wisdom: An Inquiry into Elderhood. Information on this new program can be found at



Ann had been our guest before in the first season of CONSCIOUS AGEING. You can find it HERE

Ann StarSong
See our new on-line offering called Active Wisdom : An inquiry into Elderhood HERE

0:00 Intro Heidi: Active  WIsdom: an inquiry into elderhood

1:02 Ann introduces herself, talking about “refirement”

1:40 Heidi’s comment on not needing to work for income

2:30 Heidi asks Ann about her present activities

3:09 How Ann felt after retirement: she found herself in the book: Mary Catherine Bateson: “Composing a further life”, a new stage after retirement “active wisdom” – post-work parenting phase.

5:20 Retirement and purpose of life

6:15 Ann: the “Sandwich generation”, people with ageing parents and children, even one generation more! Ann talks about how she got stressed by needing to take care for elderly people instead of the grandchildren. Dealing with many challenges.

8:32 “Elderhood” –  Baby boomers: “Pig and python beneration”. A resourceful generation which has a lot to give back.

10:00 Ann talks about her activity around active wisdom: Linkedin group, Facebook group etc. A program of inquiry into elderhood. THe Series CONSCIOUS AGEING inspired her.

14:00 We need realism about ageing, not to be over-positively ignoring and neither be controlled by the symptoms. But don’t believe to your inner voice who wants to tell you that you are getting old and gets you into fear and depression. Body needs movement

16:25 Ann talks about their program: One module: How do I care for my wellbeing? 

17:20 Women were educated to neglect themselves and care for others. Example: Heidi’s mother

18:25 Ann about her interviewees: they did conscious choices, difference between . grandmothers and grandfathers. Some created new initiatives and ways of being with the family.

21:25 Second step: “My development”, personal development as adventure in that age. W>hat do I know and can contribute? Where is your edge of learning? An inquiry in a co-creative space. 3. Module: My vocation. Vocational arousal (Barbara Marx Hubard). 

25:20  Mark as an example, our story

28:00 Ann: enjoying what we are doing: Ann and her teaching partner: reaching out far and offering something which can make a difference. Technology is becoming easier and so it is accessible for most. 

30:25 FInal piece “my freedom” . Virtue and vulnerability of the stage of Active Wisdom. Leaving a legacy. What was the gift of the life of mother, father, my country? BEing in community.

32:40 Connection via Internet. We are not alone! Mutual support and encouragement. 

34:50 Ann: others bring new perspectives. Worry can change into more resourceful considerations.

35:50 Co-creation instead of fights. Asserting positions ask agreements and disagreements. Co-creative space is about asking questions and not uttering statements. We need rules of agreement to stay on purpose. Open to not knowing and new perspectives.  

38:10 Heidi’s experience with co-creative spaces: listening is the key. The cisl happens when something new emerges. A different way of being together this way is nurturing and enlivening. Experiencing the field and listening and feeling, enjoying oneself. Be fully who you are, not holding back, not being too forward, or being too much holding back. A non-judgemental space.

43:05 Ann: the stringing of the beats: A circle of sharing, Speaking until you are complete, others listen and say “hoh” at the end. A protocol can hold the space, especially in online connection.

45:15 Heidi asks about the course. Ann explains the procedure of the course. It is all about relationship and questioning in relationship with others.

48:50 Heidi: younger people often want to re-invent the wheel: Do we more easily learn from each other? Ann: ask questions also to the young. They teach us much, so can we listen first? 

50:20 We thought we knew. Now we know that we don’t know. Not needing to know everything.

51:21 Ann shares her experience with the young doctors when she was ill. Surrender to their expertise was scary. Finding the balance, still asking the questions: why do I need this injection? FInding the middle ground of the opposites = the wisdom.  A broader perspective, no need for “black and white” = healthy elderhood. Right or wrong is about is it useful or not, no absolute truths. Finding the appropriate language to communicate what we know to the others.

55:10 We did a co-creative conversation! Appreciations

56:00 Website: Active Wisdom  email: ann(at)