Reflection: Generativity


By Karen Fleming

Part 1:

Generativity is not a word we usually use in conversation. However, it is one that is worthwhile to know as it signifies wisdom. A quick glance at Wikipedia tells us:

          “The term generativity was coined by the psychoanalyst, Erik Erikson in 1950 to denote a concern for establishing and guiding the next generation.”

“Wow!” That could be quite an undertaking. Our children stand to inherit great environmental and social problems.

We live in a world where even a simple dandelion creates strife. We all know the concern everyone has for their green lawn, but this can only be through chemical intervention which is unsafe to breathe. The animals who eat from these treated areas and the insects who lay their eggs here dwindle as a result and the next generation will suffer if we continue these practices.

To speak out against such things now evokes controversy.  One feels freedom of speech is only allowed under rare circumstances and certainly never when it comes to quiet acceptance. I’d like to be able to disagree and gather with others in a setting where I can say what I want without others wanting to tape my mouth shut or giving me a disgusted look.

Part 2:

Children are our Creator’s most wonderful gift. Are they being taught at school about Generativity? Maybe. However, this is a big word and it’s use should really start at infancy. Erik Erikson writes on the 8 stages of childhood development in a book entitled Childhood and Society. From him we learn that these stages occur according to age and virtue of the individual. Generativity can fall within this growth process when the accumulated knowledge of how to make the world a better place is best understood and (hopefully) passed down. The strongest development here occurs during middle age (40-64).

Often we think about personal growth on our own terms and what it brings to us. What about changing that attitude toward positive world growth? That does take insight and effort, even in the final 8th stage of development (age 65 plus). This is the time we slow down and contemplate all we have seen of life. This can lead to the opposite of generativity—stagnation.

What can the last stage do to influence and guide the next generation? Erik Erikson provides ideas like volunteering or posing questions which aid in the discernment of good or bad actions. In this way, we can spread the word on how to make this a better world.

Part 3:

I can point to one specific example from my own life. Years ago, one of my many grandsons, who was 10 years old at the time, was given what I would call Generativity as a class project. The students had to dig holes outside the school and plant trees. I helped and came away with dust and mud on my shoes and hands.

27 years later I am hoping that all I say to my grandchildren and great grandchildren is good, productive, and caring. Though, I may not be around to see how this influences their generativity. I know with God’s help I will give my best and receive His approval.

“Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities”. (Matthew 25:23).


Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. W. W. Norton & Co.