This time of year we remember things we are grateful for and families often top the list. However, our children, if we are fortunate to have some, are certainly most important. Looking at them seated at the Thanksgiving table or hearing their voices on the phone, consciously or unconsciously reminds us: children are our legacy. They satisfy at some level our desire for generativity:
generating good things and people.
Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson wrote that in the middle years of adult life we come to realize: “I am what survives me.” Though giving birth is the ultimate act of generativity it’s a parent’s follow through, his and her commitment to nurturing and growing this person, that truly counts. And we all can experience generativity by giving birth or creating: a business, a song, a piece of sculpture, a resolution of a problem, a scientific theory, a recipe, an article, a novel, a hybrid rose. Generativity also means creating the very future itself through teaching, nursing, volunteering, voting, forming and helping social institutions like community centers, churches, schools and health centers. In each of these created things resides a part of us and the good in us. Bottom line: what we generate moves into the future and provides for those coming after us. I am what survives me.
Psychologists confirm, that people who want to generate and create, experience feelings of well-being and low levels of depression. Once again if you are feeling sad or lonely, the best cure is reaching out to help someone else. Though there might be some ego or need for power in our acts of creation, when we generate for future generations we cover over the power with love. Dan P. McAdams in his article about generativity, quotes an African Proverb to underline the positive aspects of our desires to leave something behind:
The world was not left to us by our parents. It was lent to us by our children.
Erik Erikson further states that in order to create and have children and build societies, we indicate a “belief in the species.” We daily know the horrific things that can happen on our planet, but we forge ahead believing in our own generative powers and the goodness that can still exist on our earth for the generations to come.
In McAdams’ article he includes a Self-Test. The items below are from the Loyola Generativity Scale (LGS).
Read the following six items and mark:
O if the statement never applies to you;
1 if the statement sometimes applies to you;
2 if the statement often applies to you;
3 if the statement always applies to you;
Then add up your score. Men, women in their 30s, 40s and 50s usually score 11. Younger adults and adults in their 60s and older usually score slightly lower.
___ I try to pass along knowledge I have gained through my experience.
____I have made and created things that have had an impact on other people.
____I have important skills that I try to teach others.
____If I were unable to have children of my own, I would adopt children.
____I have a responsibility to improve the neighborhood in which I live.
____I feel that my contribution will exist after I die.
Thanks to Dan P. McAdams for the inspiration from his article GENERATIVITY:The New Definition of Success
And to Sean Drellinger Photostream