Column: Wolf packs can serve as models for vital aging communities

Bob Ramsey
Bob Ramsey

By Guest Columnist Bob Ramsey

The elders of our tribe are both a resource and a responsibility. As our society ages and the senior population becomes more prominent – even predominant – we have to create vital aging communities that both accommodate the needs and capitalize on the gifts of our oldest citizens.

We need a model for protecting and empowering older adults at the same time. But where does this kind of example exist? Where can we find such a model? How about in a pack of wolves?

Wolves get a bad rap. They are stigmatized by the stereotypes of the “wolf in sheep’s clothing,” the wolf who huffs and puffs and blows houses down and the “big bad wolf” who harasses little girls in red hoods and their grandmas. But there’s much more to wolves than that.

Thanks to Elaine Lerdall and her Wisconsin friend Bob Nelson for bringing the following little-known wolf lore to my attention. Surprisingly, when wolves migrate from one location to another, it’s not a mob scene with individual wild animals running pell-mell in the same general direction. There’s purpose, order and discipline to it. It’s organized.

The oldest and most infirmed members of the pack go first and lead the way. They set the pace. Rather than being left out, left behind or shunted to the end of the line where they easily could be ignored, forgotten or abandoned, the oldest wolves are front and center, using their age and experience to determine a reasonable pace for the entire pack.

Stronger members come next, followed by most of the rest of the pack in the middle and the very strongest members rounding out the procession. The lead (alpha) wolf brings up the rear, where he can watch over the entire pack and guide its direction.

It’s a simple model: the oldest are put first. This way, they can continue to contribute to the pack’s movement and still be protected by the rest of the members. Who knew? Wolves actually organize their migrations around the strengths of all members, and they look out for each other throughout the journey.

What a concept! Sometimes, the model or solution we seek can be found in nature. Wolves have figured out that their oldest members aren’t a throwaway generation. Their elders aren’t the problem; they are part of the solution.

This is the exact opposite of our age-obsessed society that puts youth first and eases its seniors to the sidelines, where often they lose contact with the mainstream and fall further and further behind. Communities can learn an important lesson from the wisdom of the wolves.

St. Louis Park resident Bob Ramsey is a lifelong educator, freelance writer and advocate for vital aging. He can be contacted at 952-922-9558 or by email at [email protected]