A group relations event for people aged 70-years or older was held over four mornings – Tuesday 17th October to Friday 20th October 2017 – as part of Reimagining Human Relations in our Time.
Seventy is a play on numbers as 70-year olds would have been born in the same year as the establishment of the TIHR; and most 70-year olds are still resourceful and creative; they have drive and ambition – like the TIHR in facing contemporary human relations challenges. The group relations event for over 70-year olds focused on the social, physical and psychological experiences of ageing – loss and hope; love and death; experience and wisdom, missed opportunities and daring to grasp a few more.
The group relations event was about a stage of life, not a number, reflecting peoples’ histories and hopes for the future. The event addressed issues of having and losing power; having and losing freedom and increasing restrictions on life.
Our proposition is that there is strong interest among people 70 and over to continue learning in a social context, i.e. learning from experience.
Our assumptions are that issues of role and authority of older people in society takes on a different complexion after the age of 70; that 70-year olds are facing feelings of loss; that 70-year olds often feel invisible in society and that it is possible to raise their visibility and potency; that talking about issues of increased fragility and loss can be good for physical and mental health; that 70-year olds are still politically interested and active and can be mobilised to higher social objectives; and that many 70-year olds are eager to face new beginnings.
The group relations event took place in the mornings during the Festival from 09.30 to 1.00 – 3.5 hours of whole community meetings, small community meetings, life story meetings, reflection meetings and plenaries.
The Group Relations Event for the Silver Generation facilitated the discovery of new energies, vitality and creative potentials of older people. Thirty-two people – 19 females and 13 males; 21 from the UK and 11 from abroad, attended. The international membership, the high attendance rates and the appreciative comments made about the event, spoke to a need in older people for opportunities to address, deeply, their daily life and end-of-life issues in groups. The uniqueness of the event lay in the facilitated group experience in the Tavistock tradition – this was a key element that enabled people to speak openly about their hopes and fears. Individual experience shared in groups made the event a powerful one leading to increased energetic drive to make the most of life’s opportunities, to discover new levels of creativity and inspiration; to be adventurous, to take risks and to find a new sense of excitement and optimism in living.Themes like loss of visibility was a painful part of ageing, as was giving things up which existed alongside an aggressiveness about keeping one’s place in society. Time was running out and issues about succession were crucial. Much emphasis was put on working, as the baby-boomer generation needed to keep up their pensions and ensure good health care.Another important theme associated with anxieties about ageing, was the loss of autonomy and being vulnerable, the need to be looked after, especially when having no family. GR70 recalled adolescence which framed struggles around adolescent dependency and independence because of the special role they had in compensating for their parents’ suffering during WWII and the Holocaust.Concern was expressed about the physicality of ageing and associations with death. ‘Looking after our bodies’ was regarded as a priority. Continuing to survive for ourselves and for others was a dominant issue. The language of loss and grief was not the language of productivity and purposefulness. Facing atrophy, restriction and the loss of relationships, existed alongside forming new relationships and taking on new roles and experiences. In the inter-generational sphere, grandparents and grandchildren provided a sharpened sense of continuity and pointed to each generation offering the other a keen perspective of life; the young offering the old a new lease of life and older people offering wisdom and experience.Falling, a constant worry for older people, was associated with ‘falling into dementia’ and anxiety about which partner would die first? A feature of language during ageing is the excruciating loss of words; and shouting without realizing it. Competition and envy was alive and well in the event. Images of young people, colours, gardens, privilege and the anger of the deprived, the outsider, working hard to get where one was, introduced competition of who is who in the hierarchy, who is healthier; who has done better in life; and who is smarter. Competition, anger and envy are part of the experience of ageing, providing a liveliness and a reason to keep going, even if only to try to defeat the other.It was important for people to tell their stories. Everyone wanted to talk. Stories included parental choices, relationships and disappointments, ways of dealing with life’s difficulties. Many stories were very personal. The drive to tell stories seemed very powerful. For the over 70s, there was a strong sense of time running out and yet still wanting to make new friends at 70 + and having greater freedom to do what one likes.People spoke about their relationships with the Tavistock and its genius idea of having an over-70s event. As the event drew to a close, there was an urgent sense of speaking before it was too late. People regarded the ‘rules’ that were so easily broken during the event were creative new ways of managing group relations. We were linked to the 1960’s generation in which many of us achieved our (relative) maturity, where a new way of taking up authority, and a new way of dealing with those around us with authority, was forged. We broke the rules then and we break the rules now! Searching for the past ‘good Tavistock’ was a vain hope, but nevertheless represented a group life force that had not given up, but insisted on being heard.Mannie Sher, PhD
1st December 2017