Unprecedented growth in our aging population mandates a corresponding increase in the research base. African Americans and elders over the age of 75 years are particularly underrepresented in the social scientific literature. Because wisdom operates as a sort of compensating mechanism to the losses due to biology, it provides an effective framework for the study of optimal aging. The current study, designed to elicit wisdom stories from African American elders, further identified wisdom as an important positive aspect of any new paradigm of aging.
Following initial contact, each of four African American elders over the age of 75 years was interviewed on two separate occasions using open-ended questions. Data were analyzed utilizing procedures for hueristic inquiry (Moustakas,1990a). Themes included Acceptance, Growth, and Interaction. Less direct means of transmission predominated, including modeling, mentoring, storytelling, listening, and observation.
Specific processes facilitative of wisdom transmission emerged which will inform revisions in the existing paradigms on aging in clinical, research, and policy realms. These include maintenance of a mindset and perspective characterized by the qualities of acceptance, openmindedness, and compassion, a pronounced emphasis on continual growth, the nonjudgmental valuing of interaction with others, and a commitment to conferring wisdom, particularly through mentoring and modeling. In spite of major differences in background, education, and occupation, narrative indicated similar attitudes and experiences regarding the process of transmission among participants.