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Spirituality Essay:

Generativity    ( April 2005 )

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"The world was not left to us by our parents. It was lent to us by our children." African proverb

Generativity is the term, generally attributed to psychologist Erik Erikson, to describe his Stage 7 development (in his 8 stages of a "life well lived").

Generativity is "the care for the future world" that typically develops in mid-adulthood. Growing out from raising one's children, a healthy adult begins devoting increasing attention and energy to the world he or she will "leave behind" after death. Erikson calls its opposite, "self-absorption" and "stagnation" . . . . representing a failure of one's spirit to naturally advance. He writes, "A person does best at this time to put aside thoughts of death and balance its certainty with the only happiness that is lasting: to increase, by whatever is yours to give, the good will and higher order of your place in the world."

This dovetails nicely with our third UU quality of a spiritual life: Service to the World. Erikson sees this as an inevitable extension of our ability to create intimacy with a partner . . . a personal caring for the world our children will inherit. Devoting our resources, in whatever way organically rises up within us to improve the planet becomes an increasing source of purpose and satisfaction; and until health issues arise in later life, the "generative' adult usually finds more and more ways in which they give to the world.

There are innumerable ways each of us can use our lives to nourish our world, from simple voting to adopting a child. Focusing our awareness on the ways we are already doing this deeply honors who we are, and, likely, will spark other ideas and desires for being "of service" to the world.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
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