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Community Leadership and Non-attachment in Later Adulthood

Abstract and Keywords

Global demographic trends, like increasing life expectancy and human longevity along with other factors that affect “aging” contemporary societies, have restructured age-old beliefs about later adulthood. This chapter focuses on community leadership in the later adult years. Recent research on concepts like successful aging, wisdom, mentoring, and the role of older adults in community leadership has uncovered many positive aspects of development in later adulthood. The chapter also focuses on nonattachment and aims to unravel cultural variations in understandings of both community leadership and nonattachment in later adulthood. Taking India as a case study, the chapter delineates traditional ideas of detachment and spiritual advancement in the human life span through the ashramadharma template. The complex developmental pathway of nonattachment from worldly pleasures (materialistic, self-related) alongside involvement in community development (other-oriented, service-driven) is explored. The influence of gender, caste, and social class are highlighted to explain these experiences in contemporary Indian society.

Keywords: later adulthood, civic engagement, volunteering, nonattachment, community leadership, mentoring, positive development, Hindu life course

In 2011, while reviewing the results of three preliminary studies on youth civic engagement in India, I and three of my graduate students found one common factor that motivated youth to take up and continue civic engagement activities. That common factor was finding the right mentor at the right time from their everyday contexts! We found that most of the mentors mentioned by our youth participants were older than 50 years of age, were engaged in taking up innovative social initiatives in their local communities, and were not extended family members. Many of the mentors had also given up lucrative, stereotypical career paths later in life in order to contribute to social development causes. This finding triggered an interest to delve deeper into the lives of mentors, older adults who were in many ways “silent” leaders in their own local communities.

Meeting one such mentor, Madhusudhan Agarwal, founder of MAM Movies ( at the Sabarmati (Gandhi) Ashram, Ahmedabad, in western India, was an insightful research experience. Mr. Agarwal, trained in filmmaking in the United States, left behind a lucrative career and the comforts it offered when he felt completely detached and empty from within after making his first film. After overcoming a deep internal struggle and opposition from his family, he left the United States for India on October 2 (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday), 2004, in search of himself and his stories of change. Soon, he embarked on a journey to make a film about the life of Dwarkoji Sundarani (aged 85 at that time), one of the last active disciples of Mahatma Gandhi. To do this, he traveled to Bodh Gaya in Bihar, India, where Dwarkoji worked. (Gautam Buddha found enlightenment in Bodh Gaya.)

(p. 681) The Samanvayawas ashram (a hermitage or a monastery) was set up on April 18, 1954, with an aim to harmonize science and spirituality (Varma, 2006). Through the ashram, Dwarkoji contributed significantly in educating and uplifting more than 30 lakh musahaars (a Dalit or low-caste, mouse-catching community) in the region. Mr. Agarwal stayed with Dwarkoji at the ashram for an extended period of time and learned “hands-on” some of the most intense lessons in truth, service, and nonattachment. On the day he was to leave the ashram, Dwarkoji asked Mr. Agarwal “where, will you go after this?” to which Mr. Agarwal replied with the obvious: he would go back to his studio and edit the film. Dwarkoji again poignantly asked him, “where, after all, will you go, after this?” In response to his prolonged silence, Dwarkoji said calmly, “Go, find your own truth…. and everything else will follow.” Reflecting on that experience and the turn of events in his own life, Mr. Agarwal said to me, “I learnt the biggest lesson of my life at Gaya—the destroying of want [moh] and the search for your own truth, in your own life…. Dwarkoji taught me to live with non-attachment—that according to him was Moksha [salvation]—to let go, while you continue living.”

Thereafter, Mr. Agarwal came to Ahmedabad and formed MAM movies, an enterprise in filmmaking that documented the lives of people who lived out Gandhi’s mantra of being the change they wanted to see in the world. Now, he is actively engaged in training youth who intern at MAM movies and practice Gandhian philosophy by participating in service activities at the Gandhi Ashram and across India. As part of the “Yes, I am the Change” initiative, they undertake journeys to the remotest regions of India to document local stories of positive change and social transformation.

Why was this instance insightful? Stories of intrinsic transformation like that of Mr. Agarwal and his work are few and far between. These are stories of hope and optimism -an alternative perspective of social change and leadership, within and outside, here and now, in small but effective ways. Indian spiritual-philosophical views on nonattachment are deep and complex. Their essence—of “letting go while you continue to live”—is easier said than done in the real world for anyone, at any given time. But this philosophy of nonattachment subtly underlies the meaning of life in India, and an individual is expected to keep this ideal at the core of self-understanding across the life span and more so during later adulthood, when one actively engages in responsibilities on multiple fronts.

These stories of transformation reiterate the resilience of concepts like simplicity in thought and being, kindness and compassion, giving without expectation, cooperation, service, and truthall of which are essential contributors to the understanding of nonattachment, personal growth, and self-actualization. Contemporary Indian society is moving at breakneck speed toward consumerism and economic affluence, resulting in a deep disconnect between a simple (also older) lifestyle that values sustainability and goodness for all against a life that thrives on the principle of “my pleasure alone and now.”

Importantly, the Mr. Agarwal’s story reflects continuity in the transfer of Gandhi’s vision of social transformation to Dwarkoji’s social development initiatives in Bihar, then his vision of nonattachment and service to Mr. Agarwal’s initiatives in Ahmedabad. The chain of transformative thought continues when it rubs off on young interns (most of whom were born in postglobalization India, after 1990) who work with Mr. Agarwal and stay at the Gandhi Ashram to participate in the process of “being the change.” Over the period of a few decades, all three individuals—Gandhi, Dwarkoji, and Agarwal—have come to exemplify self-development and community leadership during the later adulthood years, and the impact of their work continues to inspire the next generation.

Later adulthood as a life stage signifies the “beginning of the end,” as it were, of the human life span. Increased human longevity and better health indicators in most parts of the world have created a need to re-examine the life stage of later adulthood in a new light. This chapter begins with a demographic overview of the later adulthood years (data available for age 60–65 and older) at the global level, followed by trends for the same in Asia and particularly in India. It then focuses on unraveling cultural variations in later adulthood around two main themescommunity leadership and nonattachment. Focusing on middle-aged individuals older than 50 years of age, the chapter explores the complex developmental pathway of nonattachment from worldly pleasures (materialistic, self-related) alongside involvement in community development (other-oriented, service-driven).

Taking India as a case in point, the chapter delineates religious-philosophical ideas of nonattachment and spiritual advancement in the human life span through the ashramadharma template.

(p. 682) Later Adulthood: A Demographic Overview

According to Haub (2011) from the Population Reference Bureau, it is estimated that, between 2015 and 2020, for the first time in human history, the population of people aged 65 and older will surpass that of children younger than 5 years. This trend will continue worldwide until 2050, when the elderly will comprise 26% of the world’s population, compared to 5% in the 1950s and 16% now. The demographic trends indicate a steady rise in the percentage of elderly in total national populations by the year 2050. An estimated projection of the percentage of elderly in the population in 2050 in different parts of the world is shown in the Table 42.1.

Table 42.1. Current and projected population of the elderly across the world.

Regions and Countries

Percentage of Elderly Population (>65 years) 2013

Percentage Projections of Elderly Population (>65 years) 2050






Less developed


Least developed




United States









West Asia






























S. Korea














S. Africa













New Zealand


Sources: Population Reference Bureau, 2013; Kochhar & Oates, 2014.

According to United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013) the world population of elderly in 2050 will be 32%, double that of the child population of the world at that time. Although most nations of the world are aging rapidly, most of the current concentration of elderly populations is in the developed world. By 2050 however, many developing nations, especially the newly industrialized ones, will also have a sizeable elderly population (Bloom, Boersch-Supan, Mcgee, & Seike, 2011). These global demographic trends create huge challenges for health care systems, as well as for policy makers responsible for social and economic security provisions for the post-retirement aged population around the world.

According to the World Population Data Sheet 2013 (Population Reference Bureau, 2013), Japan leads in the world’s elderly population with a median age of 45 in 2010; this is expected to become 53 in 2050. It is closely followed by Italy and Germany, and this trend will remain as it is into 2050. However, by 2050, South Korea will catch up with Japan on median age, as well as experience an overall increase in its elderly population. Israel, on the other hand, will be a “moderately aging” nation with an increase in median age from 30 years in 2010 to 36 years in 2050.

The United States has more than 40 million people today older than 65, which is comparatively less than many developed European countries (Jacobsen, Kent, Lee, & Mather, 2011). The US population is expected to grow more quickly but age more slowly than its economic counterparts in Europe and Asia. Overall, in North America, only 4 years will be added to the median age, from 37 in 2010 to 41 in 2050. This will be accompanied by a drop in the US share in the global population of elderly, which was 10.2% in 1950, 7.7% in 2010, and will become 5.8% in 2050 (Kochhar & Oates, 2014).

Although the population of elderly in the developed world in the past decade or so has been rising consistently, the same was not believed true for the developing world. This trend, however, is estimated to change around mid-century, the main reasons for which are low fertility and longer life expectancy at birth. Today, there are an estimated 33 million “oldest-old” people, those older than 80, who reside in the developing world. The numbers in this group of the oldest-old are expected to rise and remain concentrated in the developing world, particularly Asia (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2013)).

The Asia 2050 report by the Asian Development Bank (2011) states that, in 2050, Asia will be home to 53% of the world’s population, adding a billion more people to those residing in there today. The South Asian contribution to this pool will be the largest, influencing important economic and social considerations, such as available working age groups and dependency ratios in the region. Against this background, Asia will have more than 860 million elderly by 2050.

With reference to demographic transitions and economic stability, the report states that Asian countries are divided into three tiers. The first tier, Old Asia, includes countries of Northeast Asia like Japan, South Korea, and China, which are economically more stable but have begun their demographic descent. The second tier, Young Asia includes South and Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, India, and Vietnam. These countries are becoming economically stable and will have a tilt in the balance of young and old around 2030 or later. The last tier, Very Young Asia, including countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, both with a huge number of young children, is farthest from economic development as well as demographic shifts. A rising dependency ratio, especially in tier 2 countries (which are less developed than tier 1 countries), creates challenges because a country may become older before it becomes richer and then face the added burden of taking care of the health and social security needs of the elderly.

In Asia, the trend in the rise of the elderly population is estimated to be steady for now, but, in the next 25 years, there will be a substantial increase in numbers of elderly older than 75. Interestingly, the (p. 683) population of women in Asia (and the world) will outnumber the number of older men in the coming years. This trend is expected to remain stable for the next 50 years or so. Along with the rise in the number of Asian elderly, the number of adult children they will have will be fewer than ever before. This trend will be particularly sharp in countries like China (including Hong Kong), Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan, which have lower levels of child bearing, leaving most elderly women in these countries with less than two children to look after them in their old age. With fewer children, the traditional Asian family network, which encompasses the care of elderly in its folds, is threatened, thus making adaption to a changing milieu a necessity (East West Center, 2002). Within the Asian region, India shows a dual demographic trend. Alongside concerns about a burgeoning population, demographers now talk about reaping India’s “demographic dividend” and of making timely investments in harnessing human resources in a rapidly expanding population of children and youth (Roychowdhury, Chandrashekar, & Ghosh, 2006). India faces the dual challenge of nurturing an enormous young generation and simultaneously caring for the well-being of its quietly growing elderly population. India is also home to more than 1.2 billion people and will soon surpass China as the world’s most populous country, by 2028. Although China’s population decline will begin by 2030, India’s population will keep growing for several decades and begin declining only by 2100 (United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2013). China has already secured a place in the tier 1 Asian countries, whereas India will remain in tier 2 for a long time to come. A host of issues need to be addressed in the light of these population trends: household consumption versus production by the elderly, health care status, income security, and living arrangements to name a few.

The National Human Development Report (Planning Commission of India, 2001) estimates the elderly population in India (older than 60) to reach 113 million, amounting to almost 9% of the total population in 2016. Currently, the southern states have higher concentration of elderly as compared to the eastern and northeastern states. The state of Kerala has the highest percentage of elderly at 13%.

Overall, due to the higher life expectancy of women, the proportion of elderly women older than 60 is more than men in India. By 2050, the (p. 684) percentage of elderly men will be 20.2% whereas that of women will be 22.4% of the total male and female population, respectively. This is particularly true of states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Gujarat (Bose, 2000).

The northern states, known for a low female sex ratio, as well as for the low social status of women in many spheres, depict a more masculine elderly population than do others. Generally, the status of elderly men in Indian households is relatively better than that of elderly women due to a variety of sociocultural factors rooted in a patriarchal social system. There are more elderly women who now live alone than men. Thus, gender as a whole complicates the experience of aging in India. Elderly widows form a marginalized and vulnerable group among the elderly in India; barring policy exceptions in a few Indian states, their contributions and welfare needs are hardly recognized. (Desai et al., 2010; Gopal, 2006).

With a rise in the number of nuclear families and an increasing elderly concentration in the urban areas (Planning Commission of India, National Human Development Report, 2001), the risk of marginalization for the elderly is now a reality. Anticipating this, a National Policy for Older Persons was announced by the government of India in 1999 with an aim to improve societal participation of the elderly and empower them for better control over their own lives. Under the identified areas of intervention, the 2011 version of the policy published by the Ministry of Social Justice, Government of India (2011) refers only to extensions in retirement age under the theme of “productive aging” and promoting “multigenerational bonding” by revisions in the value education school curriculum. The policy thus remains essentially welfare-focused, indicative of the dependence of elderly well-being on bureaucratic state systems or society at large. Although this skewed focus on state welfare impairs promoting positive development in the later years, it is indicative of the immense need for culturally sensitive and contextually appropriate programs of intervention that optimize human development in the later years.

Both productive aging and multigenerational bonding, as proposed by the policy, can become drivers of change for the situations of elderly in Indian settings. Although the economic resources to meet this demographic change are limited, the Indian sociocultural ethos provides an optimistic framework to help the elderly (Chatterjee, Patnaik, & Chariar, 2008). Interventions for sensitivity toward the aged should be multipronged and include all members, young and old, in the Indian family environment. In response to the changing trends in the life span, psychosocial preparation for aging and empowerment in old age should also begin sooner and in such a way that planning for social and psychological well-being are just as important as economic security or health concerns in old age. One way of meeting this goal, in India and probably elsewhere too, is to provide opportunities and contexts for positive development in the older population’s immediate settings.

Older adults can become assets to any society, provided the contexts and conditions for thriving and positive development are in place. An overview of recent trends in positive development during the later years will set the stage for understanding the self–society interface in later adulthood. The next section refers to global research trends in positive development in different domains during the later adulthood years.

Trends in Positive Development in Later Adulthood

A large body of research on later adulthood has focused on life transitions, stress, and conflict rather than on positive aspects like thriving or flourishing. Contributions from positive psychology on developmental aspects of engagement, adult goals and purposes, and a life well lived are quite recent and need to continue (Nakamura, 2011). On similar lines, Bundik, Yaeger, King, and Damon (2010) mention that research focusing on positive development in the later years is a recent trend, seen only since the past two decades. They report studies conducted in the United States on thrivinga process explaining thresholds of positive development across the life span. With specific reference to later adulthood, they state that the term “successful aging” is often used to refer to later adults who “thrive” when they demonstrate low risk for disease and disability, high cognitive and physical functioning, and active engagement with life.

In a longitudinal study on resilience, Kern and Friedman (2010) identified factors like temperamental disposition, internal coping mechanisms, social support, and health behaviors that ensured thriving among Americans in later life in the face of challenges. Women particularly scored higher on social support and health-protective behaviors than men. From a clinical psychology perspective, Mitchell (2009) identified the development of (p. 685) three dimensions in later life for women—the ethic of care, acquisition of integrity, and a mature and individuated ego—contribute to depth, vitality, fullness, and enjoyment in the later years. Studies with mature adults in recent years have added new perspectives to the understanding of cognition, emotion, and spiritual intelligence in the later adult years.

Recent evidence from the United States on adult cognition (Salthouse, 2012), with its focus on accumulated knowledge and its applicability in real-world situations, defies the age-old stereotype that declining cognitive abilities have negative effects on overall well being in later years. It is now well established that cognition alone does not determine successful functioning in life. Similarly, the relationship between wisdom and age is now better understood as recent research in the United States highlights the role of personal experience, including openness, reflectivity, and willingness to apply experience in life, in helping to develop wisdom across the life span (Sternberg & Jordan, 2005).

Across cultures, although generativity is the hallmark of middle and late adulthood, wisdom and emotional maturity are said to be strong predictors of life satisfaction in late adulthood (Berry, Poortinga, Breugelmans, Chasiotis, & Sam, 2011). Although the ability to experience emotions remains more or less stable across the life span, an individual’s ability to regulate emotions and focus on the positive aspects of life increases during late adulthood. Brummet, Babyek, Gronbaek, and Barefoot (2011) emphasize that older adults who experience positive emotions are more likely to have a creative and flexible approach to problem solving and aging. At the same time, their attempts to maintain social and physical contacts are much more expansive, contributing to overall well-being in later years.

Strongman and Overton (1999) stated that emotional control, social support, and resilience contributed to successful aging in developed societies like the United States. Except for spirituality, the emotional satisfaction and well-being of American and Maori (from New Zealand) later adults were found to be strikingly similar. On the basis of this finding, the researchers speculated that, if empirically explored, spirituality may be an important factor contributing to successful aging across many cultures. Some evidence on these lines is now available.

Spirituality and religion provide the necessary buffering against mental health risks like depression. In a study with Australian elderly living in aged-care homes, Fleming (2008) mentions the protective role of spirituality and helping behaviors against depression. Residents who were spiritual and helped others were less likely to feel depressed because their lives seemed to have purpose. Jain and Purohit (2006) found no difference in the levels of spiritual intelligence between elderly living with families and in old-age homes in Rajasthan, India. Spiritual intelligence helped the elderly in families and institutions alike to find purpose and overcome monotonous routines and loneliness. Another study conducted with elderly living in institutions in Kolkata, India (Basu Mukherjee, 2013) found that imposed exclusion caused social disabilities in the elderly and negatively influenced their quality of life. However, being spiritual contributed to their resilience to cope with an excluded existence in the company of agemates in the institutions.

A longitudinal study by Dillon, Wink, and Fay (2003) of 183 late adults born in the early and late 1920s in California showed that early investment in religiousness helped individuals to cultivate generativity, and this relationship remained stable for about 40 years. On the other hand, young adults who had earlier self-expanding generative concerns (need to outlive the self or attain immortality, power and impact on others) tended to turn to spirituality in their later years. Spirituality was thus positively related to generativity in the second half of adult life for these individuals. The study also demonstrated that spirituality in the later years did not demonstrate indifference to the condition of others in society.

In a study with Christian and Buddhist Chinese Singaporean elderly, Jianbin and Mehta (2003) found that religion and spirituality play an integrative role and enable the elderly to age successfully. In some instances, they found that elderly persons disengaged purposefully for introspection or individual spiritual pursuits using meditative techniques. They argue that the understanding of successful aging must include the domain of religion and spirituality and that the disengagement endorsed by these elderly participants’ religious belief systems should not be categorized as unsuccessful or troubled aging. Thus, introspective inward journeys for self-development and leading communally useful, purposeful lives are gradually being recognized as important aspects of preparation for aging.

Levenson, Aldwin, and Cupertino (2001) recommend a model of adult development that (p. 686) transcends the ontogenetic (Eriksonian and other stage theories) and sociogenic models (socialization and social role centric models) to focuses on self-development through liberative models (religious-philosophical) that, by the cultivation of egolessness, bring a person closer to wisdom in the contemporary world. The liberative model draws from various Eastern philosophical traditions like Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Yoga, and contemplative Christianity. A reference to some of these traditions is made in the subsequent sections on nonattachment.

One of the elements of successful aging identified by Csikszentmilayi and Rathunde (1998) was that of sustained community involvement, which ensures purposeful engagement in societal activities for the self and reinforces a sense of contribution for individuals. This dual benefit to self and society goes a long way toward ensuring optimal thriving experiences. A qualitative study by Kleiber and Nimrod (2008) on a group of “learners in retirement” supports this claim. Participants who chose generative civic engagement activities that were motivated by agentic (self-serving) as well as communal purposes reported long-lasting and more satisfying impact on the self (in terms of experiencing pride and contribution) as compared to those who chose activities only based on self-interest or only for communal and service purposes.

Contexts within and outside the family that provide for synergistic interactions between the young and old seem to hold promise for optimizing the developmental potentials of both. For example, a study in Germany by Kessler and Staudinger (2007) found that when adolescents and older people cooperate, they create unique psychological contexts that lead to motivation and unfolding of intergenerational potential. Kelly (2008) refers to those contributions made by older persons across the world that cannot be measured economically, such as household maintenance and volunteer work in communities. She draws attention to the introduction of “blended” retirement or phased-out retirement plans by European corporations that enable older persons to integrate into their communities by reducing the number of working hours and increasing spare time for leisure or volunteering. This not only enables better adjustment to life after retirement, but also contributes to the long-term well-being of older persons.

Referring to the concept of a “Big Society,” in which individuals and communities rise to resolve their own problems, Cox (2011) highlights the huge contribution of older persons in the United Kingdom in the form of volunteering and other forms of civic engagement, caring for grandchildren, donating, and voting. The report strongly supports the claim that a greater number of elderly in the future may mean more civic action. The majority of British older individuals from the study were motivated to volunteer because they wanted to help others or improve things in their community. In addition to this, they volunteered to create connections with others, put their skills to good use, and respond to the needs of friends, family, and communities. These were conscious efforts to keep loneliness at bay in later life.

Cox’s (2011) report also cites ground-breaking examples of a Big Society from around the world. One of them is the system of Hureia Kippu—translated as “caring relationship tickets” or “care credits” (p. 39)—initiated by the Sawayaka welfare foundation in Japan. The care credits, accumulated by an individual through doing caring tasks for the elderly, can be used by the person in the future when they themselves are elderly. The care credits can also be transferred to someone else or exchanged. This system gains impetus through the Atarashi kokyo or the “new public” concept that redefines the relationship between the people and the state. Under this scheme, anyone who helps an elderly person in their locality earns credits that can be transferred to the care of their own parents in another geographical location. Similarly, by taking care of elderly in nursing homes or hospitals now, individuals can accumulate points to be used for their own insurance needs.

Thus, perceived interdependence of goals for self and society may help late adults get more out of community involvement and civic engagement activities. Later adulthood, beginning from “middle age” (or the early 50s), is thus explored as a catalyst in the process of honing the skills of the young and attaining newer realms of community contribution for the old. Generativity (outside the family, in the larger society) through community leadership and mentoring are critical processes to enhance positive development during later adulthood. The next section focuses on community leadership and mentoring in such contexts.

Community Leadership and Mentoring: Implications on Self and Society

Leadership as a construct is understood primarily based on the personality traits of the leader. (p. 687) Research on leadership styles and practices has dominated literature in fields like business administration, political science, and organizational psychology. However, leadership in social development projects requires slightly different attributes than those found for corporate executives, business tycoons, or political leaders. Levit (2010) defines such leadership as consisting of action, context, and vision and requiring a leader to be an advocate as well as a change agent for the cause at hand. With specific reference to women leaders in the counselor’s profession, she highlights the role of women as mentors and mentees who must try to break existing leadership stereotypes if they are to engage in a fuller exploration of their potentials.

Stewart (2008) mentions two popular and dominant leadership styles—charismatic leadership, which focuses on the heroic and persuasive power of the leader, and transactional and transformative leadership, which provides support and rewards to transform individual behaviour. Avolio, Walumbwa, and Weber (2009), in their review of leadership trends, mention the rise of spiritual leadership in many organizations, where the focus is on a balanced integration of mind, body, spirit, and heart.

Using data from the GLOBE project conducted with middle-level managers across 62 different societies, Mittal and Dorfman (2012) highlight cross-cultural differences in service leadership, which was found to be effective across cultures, especially with reference to emphasis on the moral integrity domain. European cultures scored higher than other clusters on the egalitarian and empowering domains, whereas South Asian cultures scored higher than others in the domains of humility and empathy.

Civic engagement and community service are important contributors to self-development and well-being in the later years. Hart, Atkins, and Donnelly (2006) define community service as any voluntary activity that benefits the community. They identify five features of community service that may be closely linked to moral development: namely, motivation, duration, type of activity, extent of voluntariness, and the need for reflection or critique. For leaders in community development programs that work at the grassroots level and use a bottom-up approach, a mix of service and spiritual leadership may be desirable. For effective community development programs and sustainable social change, inspirational leadership may also be an alternative to spiritual leadership.

Community leaders are influential individuals and change makers from within or outside the community who take up causes that affect community members. They are actively involved in resolving issues for the betterment of the community and society by building support networks. Community leaders, more often than not, directly or indirectly are also mentors to many of their young (or junior) followers. These leaders become mentors not just through explicit instruction, but also through their own disposition and being. Their beliefs and ideologies of service, rights, or other human concerns for community well-being bring effortless clarity to their actions, inspiring or motivating others around them.

A life course perspective indicates that early experiences of volunteering, especially during adolescence and the transition to adulthood, in service learning programs have a life-long impact. Individuals who are part of service learning programs at these crucial junctures are most likely to continue volunteering even in later life (Oesterle, Johnston, & Mortimer, 2004). Mentoring and community participation, especially with early adolescents and youth, make older mentors feel good about their roles in the community.

With reference to out-of-school and after-school community programs in the United States, Zeldin, Larson, Camino, and O’Connor (2005) mention the usefulness of intergenerational youth–adult relationships to building a strong sense of civil society and community. This process required a strong partnership between youth and adults, such that the developmental needs of both were met, and they could also meet the broader needs of the community. In such contexts, the challenge was immense for the middle-aged and older adults, a group that included individuals older than 40, because they needed to balance community needs with youth potentials and take on the multiple roles of teacher, coach, or task master to negotiate and sustain close bonds that would enable community participation and subsequent social change. Although the ages of mentors in some cases may not correspond to later adulthood as such, the mentoring roles played by these individuals may not differ too greatly from that of later adults.

Formal and organized contexts for youth–adult mentoring are quite common in the United States and other developed countries (e.g., mentoring and service learning programs in schools and colleges). The same, however, is not true for many other cultural contexts, where mentoring may occur naturally and in an informal manner.

(p. 688) In a study comparing mentoring in the United States and Japan, it was found that across both cultures, adolescents were more likely to ascribe mentoring functions to adults than peers, relatives than nonrelatives, and those belonging to the same sex rather than the opposite sex. However, Japanese adolescents were more likely to mention their peers also as mentors as compared to American adolescents. This was attributed to horizontal collectivism and the explicit recognition of peers as mentors in Japanese society (Darling, Hamilton, Toyokawa, & Matsuda, 2002).

A study on youth community involvement in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina by Kasumagic (2008) reported the lack of structured opportunities and role models for Bosnian youth from different ethnic backgrounds to be constructively engaged in peace and rehabilitation activities in the sensitive, war-torn region. One of the recommendations from the study was the conscious need for adults working with these youth to allow them freedom of expression and the time and space to build faith in adults and themselves as change makers for rebuilding the country.

Mentoring in the Indian context is largely defined within the parameters of the traditional guru–shishya parampara (traditional teacher–disciple relationship) template. The guru is considered to be a sacred, authoritative, and wise person, usually older and more experienced, while the disciple must be committed, disciplined, and devoted to the teacher (Ganapathy-Coleman, 2014). Very few empirical studies in India explain mentoring outside the fields of business or management. In a significant departure from the traditional guru–shishya (teacher–disciple) relationship, Rathore’s (2011) study on mentoring of civically engaged youth in India found that most mentors reported giving freedom and choice to their mentees without a strict imposition of hierarchy, either in their ideologies or in discipline involved in conducting activities. Like the parent–child relationship, there was a nurturing bond between mentors and mentees, but mentors maintained clear-cut boundaries of friendliness and professional distance from the mentees, subtly negotiating areas of noninterference.

A study by Mehta (2010) on civically engaged youth in Gujarat, India, identified the presence of nonfamily mentors to be a significant factor for youth to take up and continue with civic engagement activities. Some participants who were in their early 30s and involved in civic engagement activities for more than 6 years had recently taken up mentoring roles and were active in setting up their own organizations as community leaders. Thus, in the Indian context, mentoring was more likely to occur naturally or by chance rather than in a formal or structured manner.

Results of an ongoing project (Bhangaokar, 2014) on mentoring relationships between civically engaged youth and their mentors in organizations in Gujarat, India, following a Gandhian philosophy showed that Gandhian mentors never imposed Gandhian principles over the mentees by way of propaganda. Instead, they stringently followed Gandhian principles of simplicity, nonviolence, and dignity of labor in their own lives. Observing these traits in the mentors inspired the mentees to adopt some of these practices in their own lives. Close interactions and training with Gandhian mentors, as well as involvement in activities such as using a spinning wheel (charkha) and wearing clothes made out of handspun cotton (khadi), cleaning toilets, traveling to remote villages, doing small acts of kindness, and staying at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad strongly contributed to imbibing Gandhian philosophy and changing youth perceptions about materialism, truth, and nonviolence.

Mentoring has positive effects on the mentor also. Taylor (2007) gives supportive evidence on the psychological benefits of mentoring: for the mentors, mentoring was associated with fewer depressive symptoms, enhanced self-esteem, better health outcomes, and stronger social connections with other mentors, as well as with their own families. Morrow-Howell, Hong, and Tang (2009) reported that older adults, especially women and those with lower education and from lower social classes, perceived maximum benefits of volunteering for self and family. The lives of mentors and/or community leaders thus represent a complex mix of generativity for societal causes beyond the self and immediate family. They adopt and practice clear moral ideologies to further the causes of community leadership that they have taken up, for example, belief in environmental conservation, nonviolence, gender equality, or human rights. In some ways, they have managed to create a balance between their own needs as mentors or community leaders and have switched to being service-oriented in their approach. These factors are indicative of movement along the continuum of self-related attachment to service-driven nonattachment.

The next section explores prominent ideas of attachment and nonattachment and their implications for later adults. Ideas of nonattachment (p. 689) essentially stem from spiritual-philosophical and religious schools of thought.

Attachment and Nonattachment in Later Years

Nonattachment is an important spiritual-philosophical theme in the developmental transitions that occur during later adulthood. Nonattachment is mostly explained for the later years, alongside the markers of mature adulthood. Most explanations of nonattachment are inwardly directed through prescriptions for self-restraint and moving away from worldly pleasures in many cultures. Service or compassion toward others is at times built into these prescriptions.

Most theoretical knowledge about later adulthood comes from postindustrialized Western countries. Mainly along the dichotomy of attachment– detachment and focusing mostly on the individual, a sizable number of European and American studies explain the clinical and psychological dimensions of coping in the older years. Stemming from attachment theory, most European and American studies discuss bereavement in later years or coping with the loss of attachment figures from a clinical perspective (Bradley & Cafferty, 2001). In a comprehensive overview of clinical psychological studies on attachment in old age in Western societies from 1983 to 2012, Assche, Luyten, Bruffaerts, Persoons, van de Ven, and Vandenbulcke (2013) mention that older adults tend to have less attachment relations than younger adults. Their adult children feature prominently in meeting attachment needs while they develop symbolic attachment with God, indicative mostly of a compensatory strategy for replacing attachment figures lost to death. Attachment with God was influenced by age, gender, socioeconomic status, hardships, and stress, among other factors. God emerges as an important attachment figure during later adulthood, especially in circumstances where elderly have lost attachment figures in their own lives. African Americans and those from lower socioeconomic sectors were more likely to demonstrate strong attachment with God (Cicirelli, 2004).

Using attachment theory, Harris, Marshall, and Schvaneveldt (2008) provide an interesting analysis of marital rituals and laws in the Abrahamic religionsIslam, Judaism, and Christianity. Highlighting similarities among the three religions, they conclude that attachment relationships with real-world figures like parents and spouses define the features of attachment with God. Sacred texts and religious laws play a very important role in the formation of these attachment patterns.

Although there is ample research on later adulthood and attachment, very few studies focus on the idea of nonattachment at an advanced age. There seems to be a dearth of psychological research materials in the area from European, American, and other cultural contexts. Some anthropological and cultural psychological work on conceptions of personhood and old age provide insights into experiences of aging across cultures, but few of them directly refer to nonattachment as a concept. For example, through her ethnographic studies on the elderly in West Bengal, India, Lamb (1997) argues against a single model of personhood in either Western or Indian cultural systems. With specific reference to the later years, she mentions how the understanding of selfhood becomes more concrete, unique, and partially separable from others even in cultures like Indiagenerally assumed to be “collectivistic.” In her study, elderly Bengali women think about disengaging or freeing themselves of maya (illusion, worldly ties) as they age and prepare for the last stage of life. Lamb’s work reiterates two important ideas: one is the increased significance of a personal psychological space, including ideas of autonomy and unboundedness that an aging person engages with. The second is the intertwining of the cultural and religious-philosophical concepts that support and facilitate a person’s movement in the sphere of introspection and self-analysis. Both processes will vary across cultures and include many spiritual-religious ideas in the background.

Assuming that many broad understandings of nonattachment in old age may be prescribed in religious-philosophical texts and principles, in the next section, an attempt is made to illuminate these understandings. Due to the lack of empirical studies on nonattachment, prescribed ideal states of mature adulthood that incorporate ideas of nonattachment are cited.

Nonattachment: A Religious-Philosophical Understanding

Most religions and their scriptures prescribe ideal roles and behaviors for followers. In some religions, these are explained for specific life stages like childhood or mature adulthood, whereas in others there is only a blanket prescription of how a person should be, irrespective of age, social role, or status. An attempt has been made to focus on these prescriptions of mature adulthood in Islam (p. 690) and Judaism and discuss nonattachment against this religious/cultural backdrop.

Islam believes in nonattachment (zuhd) and a life of simplicity over material possessions ( This process progresses in three stages: a struggle to move away from worldly pleasures, nonattachment for exchange of rewards, and, last, effortless nonattachment, when a person does not think twice before giving up something. Sufism also advocates living in the world while nonattached to promote self-improvement, a lifestyle in which death should not be mourned or feared but embraced (Sen & Shafi, 2008).

According to Lapidus (1976), coordination between an active worldly life and an inner life full of strengths and ethical psychological virtues determines maturity in Islam. Religious life and practices are central to Islamic identity. Trust in God and total surrender involves a deep understanding of one’s strengths and limitations, and this becomes the basis for spiritual progression for a Muslim. Islam recognizes that every human being is incomplete and flawed, but the one who is aware of his or her limitations is constantly striving to heal from inside while judiciously taking up responsibility on the outside. Such people who believe in truth (iman), patience (sabr), and divine knowledge (tasdiq) are considered wise (halim). As against this, the jahil (unbeliever, ignorant) is driven by passion, lacks self-control, and is impractical in real life. A good Muslim adult thus lives a life well synchronized with his or her context and does not cling to worldly pleasures. One may safely assume that, by and large, this deep understanding of personhood and religion may appear only in late and/or mature adulthood when one has adequate insights about behavior from social and personal experiences.

A study by Sarkissian (2012) using data from the World Values Survey from nine Muslim majority countries (Albania, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Mali, and Turkey) illuminated interesting connections between religiosity and civic engagement. Contrary to evidence from the Western countries, social trust and tolerance (contributors to social capital) were not significantly related to civic engagement activities. Instead, gender, education, and religious behavior (especially daily prayer) were stronger predictors of civic engagement. Men, more than women, and highly educated individuals were more likely to be engaged in civic activities. However, individuals who offered daily prayers regularly were less likely to take part in other civic groups.

The wave of Islamic revivalism is represented by the growth and popularity of the Tablighi jamaat, which believes in going back to true Islam and, in the process, embracing strict ritualistic practices aligning with the Shariah law, especially for women. Sacrificing spare time to learn about religion and providing service in spreading it is one of the aims of the sect. At the outset, these beliefs may seem like resoundingly outdated patriarchal attempts to control women. However, studies by Amrullah (2011) in Indonesia and Ali (2011) in Australia represent the inner journeys of self-improvement toward more piety experienced by adult Muslim women following the Tablighi jamaat in response to modernity. Most of these women were aged between 20 and 47 years; belonged to urban, middle-, and upper-middle-class families; and their seniority depended on the number of years of enrolment in the sect.

Judaism constructs the idea of advancing age without specific reference to nonattachment. The elderly are given a revered place in society, but, instead of focusing on withdrawal from attachments, the emphasis is on continued participation and specialized contribution to communal living. According to Rabbi Sedley (2012), old age should not be equated with a burden but must be accepted as a blessing. The elderly should hence be held in respect and esteem as they are spiritually and intellectually on higher ground and closer to God. Older people are considered to be the eyes of society who will lead the next generation; hence, Jewish society places high premium on well integrated aging in society. The concept of life-long learning for the sake of knowledge and contributing to society to the greatest extent possible exemplify Jewish characteristics of old age. The active engagement of elderly in volunteering activities at schools to tutor younger children and care for their grandchildren is strongly emphasized. The elderly are encouraged to write their ethical will and discuss details of their death with their family. The “letting go” of life will become a reality only once the older person is tired of life, and, even then, he or she is encouraged to consciously prepare for death. Thus, in Judaism, the idea of nonattachment, physical as well as spiritual, is replaced with the concept of active old age.

In Buddhism, the idea of detachment finds more mention than nonattachment. Wong (2006) analyzes the concept of detachment in Buddhism, Daoism, and Stoicism and states that Buddhism, (p. 691) like Stoicism, emphasizes that we should not be emotionally attached to anything or anyone from the outside world that can be taken away from us. Buddhism advocates the impermanence of everything and cautions us against any desire for material possessions, power, and status, as well as people, because such desire only brings suffering. Even the family should be treated as a group of travelers who come together, each one of whom departs from time to time, depending on various circumstances.

However, Zhuangzi’s concept of detachment in Daoism refers to “an inner withdrawal” (p. 213) in which one continues in life as normally as possible. The failure or success of our actions will not disturb the individual who is adept at inner withdrawal. These ideas resonate well with Hindu Indian ideals of being a sthithapraygya or a person who is engaged but nonattached because he treats failure and success with equanimity. A study by Wijesinghe and Mendelson (2012) on the management of type 2 diabetes by Sri Lankan Buddhist nuns found that beliefs about detachment influenced their health behaviors, such that they refrained from thinking too much about life events and had accepted disease as a natural and unavoidable part of life. Even the nun who understood the scientific and genetic links to her acquiring diabetes attributed it to her karma.

With specific reference to community leadership and civic engagement, studies that give direct evidence on nonattachment are few. But those linking religious socialization with civic engagement can be easily found. For example, a study in the Netherlands found that lenient religious socialization, especially during adolescence and in Catholic families, positively affected nonreligious volunteering in later life. In addition to this, religious volunteering almost always “spilled over” to nonreligious volunteering (Vermeer & Scheepers, 2011). Similarly, Djupe and Neiheisel’s (2012) study on Latinos in the United States gives strong evidence that playing congregational leadership roles in the church and participating in other small-group church activities influences nonelectoral forms of political participation.

The next section describes the ideas of nonattachment from a Hindu Indian perspective.

Hindu Indian Perspectives on Nonattachment

Nonattachment features strongly in many Indian scriptures, most prominently in the Bhagavad Gita (Song of God, sacred book of Hindus), where an attachment to the fruits of one’s actions is considered detrimental to self-development and spiritual progress. Nonattachment with the results of one’s actions defines the concept of karma (action without attachment to the results of action), an idea central to Hindu selfhood in India (Bhangaokar & Kapadia, 2009). These verses from the Bhagavad Gita (Chinmayananda, 2002) exemplify the concepts of action, attachment, and nonattachment in Hindu understanding. Mediated through nonattachment is the interface between the atman (spiritual self) and the Brahman (divine universal power)the cornerstone of self and personhood in the Indian tradition:

Acts of sacrifice, charity and austerity should not be abandoned, but should be performed; worship, charity and also austerity, are the purifiers of even the “wise.”

But even these actions should be performed leaving aside attachment and the fruits, O Partha, this is my certain and best belief.

(Chapter XVIII, Verse 5, p. 1106; Verse 6, p. 1107)

Actions beneficial to self and society, such as sacrifice and charity (both necessary in community service), are endorsed by the text and said to purify one’s being. However, all these actions need to be performed without attachment. Thus, service to others is service in the real sense only when done without attachment or the desire to get something in return. The next two verses signify the interface of the human ego with the divine, an interface that rests on the idea of freedom from the notion of “mine” or ownership of any kind. Karma yogis or those who follow the path of karma in life (implying a possibility of including all human beings because freedom from karma is impossible) are expected to have this attitude toward all their actions. The verses endorse actions that must be performed by coordinating all human faculties but solely for the purpose of self-purification and transcendence, without desires:

Yogis, having abandoned attachment, perform actions merely by the body, the mind, intellect and senses, for the purification of the self (ego).

(Chapter V, Verse 11, p. 334)

Having abandoned egoism, power, arrogance, desire, anger and aggrandisement, and freed from the notion of “mine,” and therefore peaceful—he is fit to become Brahman.

(Chapter XVIII, Verse 53)

(p. 692) Referring to the Bhagvad Gita, Bhawuk (2008) refers to karma marga or the path of action (as against the path of devotion [bhakti] or the path of knowledge [gyana]) as the most significant path to reach salvation or moksha because one can remain engaged in everyday life by doing one’s duties in a devoted but nonattached manner. The karma marga or the path of action that integrates the concept of nonattachment is really an attitude to being. This attitude is adopted by many later adults in their community service and mentoring work.

Nonattachment or anasakti is considered a health-promoting attitude necessary to know oneself. When combined with yoga, it leads to better neuropsychological balance and aids in the overcoming of materialistic desires and ahamkara (ego; Salagame, 2011).

In India, the asramadharma theory of life span development includes four major life transitions: the first two stages of brahmacharya (stage of celibacy and studentship) and grishastyashrama (stage of a married householder and family life) that both focus on fulfilling responsibilities through engagement in the familial and social roles, and the last two stages of vanaprastha (stage of a forest dweller) and sanyasaasrama (stage of renunciation), which represent withdrawal from worldly pleasures and renunciation (Saraswathi & Ganapathy, 2002). The goal of forward movement in this scheme is for an individual to move closer to moksha (spiritual release) and spiritual refinement through self-actualization (Kakar, 1981). Nonattachment, an important attitude, remains the crux of all the four stages, in which the performance of righteous, role-related duties takes precedence to propel the transitions forward.

The stage of vanaprasthasrama (leaving for the forest) is of relevance to middle and later adulthood. Retirement and handing over of the family responsibilities to the next generation is the hallmark of this stage, which de-emphasizes authority and marks the beginning of a spiritual journey for the individual. Saraswathi, Mistry, and Dutta (2011) explain that the main task during vanaprastha is beginning to give up or dissolve individual relationships, with a simultaneous emphasis on lowering and controlling egoistical strivings.

The focus of this stage is on being generative through selfless service to larger goals of common, public good. Nonattachment hence features prominently in this stage, without which spiritual progress to the next is meaningless. However, engagement and transfer to the next generation of the expertise that one has accumulated through the first two stages is also expected during this stage. The stage is a stepping stone to the next stage of sanyasasrama, which emphasizes total renunciation and the spiritual pursuit of connecting with the divine.

Hindus believe in the self as a spiritual entity (soul or Atman) and self-realization as the most significant goal throughout the life span. The focus on transfer of expertise, self-discipline for spiritual pursuits during late adulthood, and transmigration of the soul also represent continuity that is not affected by old age or death (Kakar & Kakar, 2007; Chatterjee et al., 2008). In a study comparing disengagement theory and the asramadharma scheme for older adults residing in old-age homes in Orissa, Mishra (2012) found variations in belief and practice in which, although elderly were disengaging from routines tasks in everyday family life, they were replacing these tasks with some duties within the old-age homes where they now resided.

The merging of philosophical underpinnings of community leadership and nonattachment can be explained through the exemplary grassroots-level initiatives of community leaders like Vinoba Bhave, Sunderlal Bahuguna, and others in contemporary India. The social movements they undertook motivated many others to adopt their methods and ideologies such as fasting, holding nonviolent protests, and practicing compassion to combat social problems like corruption, rampant deforestation, illegal mining, and the building of huge dams and power projects. Individuals leading such countermovements are often fighting for the cause of sustainable development, ecological conservation, organic farming, and the rights of tribal minorities and their rehabilitation. A few illustrative cases explain this interface between community leadership and an attitude of nonattachment and simplicity.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave, a little-known social reformer, was considered an heir to Gandhi’s legacy. He initiated the Bhoodan movement (Gifting of Land) in April 1951, in which he would walk from one village to another, covering many states of India every year, asking landlords to donate land to landless cultivators (S. K., 1958). His ability to convince people to give up their excess land was based entirely on principles of simplicity and compassion. Drawing on Hindu religious ideas and folklore, by 1958, Vinoba accumulated close to 5 million acres of land that would be distributed to landless farmers for agriculture and rural development (p. 693) (Srivastava, 1967). The Bhoodan movement was significant because it highlighted the need for rural social reform that was divorced from the government policies and considered people to be partners in the process of social change.

Sunderlal Bahuguna, another Gandhian, spearheaded the nonviolent Chipko (translated as “embrace” or “gluing” oneself to trees) movement in Garhwal and Uttar Pradesh regions to protest against the green-felling of trees. The movement was fueled by rural women who would embrace trees, which were their main source of livelihood, in order to save them from being felled by government machinery. The movement rapidly spread to other parts of the country where local self-help groups protested against deforestation. Bahuguna was also involved in the Save the Himalayas movement against the building of the Tehri Dam and in protecting the Ganges (Ganga Raksha Yatra), which he successfully negotiated with the government after prolonged fasting (Sharma, 2009). In 2009, he was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award for his efforts.

Anna Hazare, a social worker from Ralegaon Siddhi, Maharashtra, India, led the recent anticorruption movement in New Delhi and was instrumental in making the Right to Information Act a reality ( But before this, Anna was responsible for transforming Ralegaon Siddhi, a village on the verge of drought and prone to a host of social problems due to poverty into a model, self-sufficient village. He uses techniques like shramdaan (donation of labor) to clean streets in the village and employs other Gandhian forms of resistance, such as nonviolent protests, to combat social problems. A true Gandhian, Anna, to this day, lives in simplicity at the village temple and works actively to create community leaders in the village. He has undertaken many fasts unto death for public demands related to transparency in governance (Dalal, 2010).

Jayeshbhai Patel is the founder of Manav Sadhana, a social development organization associated with the Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. His father Ishwarbhai had worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi and alone after Gandhi’s death to improve rural sanitation using sustainable resources. Through the Safai Vidyalaya (cleanliness school), Ishwarbhai built innumerable toilets and innovative sanitation projects in rural areas of India. In his father’s footsteps, Jayeshbhai continues to work for the poorest of poor with great compassion. For uplifting those in poverty, Jayeshbhai urges community workers to be “ladders” not “leaders” ( He strongly believes that the values of truth, compassion, and kindness should effortlessly be a part of any interaction with people in any work and, he reiterates the Gandhian principle of samdrasti (equal vision, seeing everyone as equal). Jayeshbhai is optimistic that future leaders will not lead from the front, but will emerge from among the people and become one with them through their work. He recommends decentralization of power and resources and concludes that human connections of empathy and kindness are what will eventually remain to define the future.

Vinoba Bhave, Sunderlal Bahuguna, Anna Hazare, and Jayeshbhai are older adults. Their beliefs and philosophies have taken shape because of their struggles and immense sacrifices for social causes. Each one and his work embodies a nonattachment with results. They have been tirelessly working in different settings to create local impact by taking people together with them, as a collective force.


The later adulthood years signify the importance of amalgamating the skills and strengths acquired over previous life stages and putting them to use for self and society. However, in the contemporary world, alongside the promise of contributing to society and positive self-development lies the challenge of overcoming loneliness and isolation. This is because, in most developed and developing societies, older people are being marginalized and pushed away to the peripheries of active social functioning. Given the demographic trends, most societies realize the importance of taking care of their rising elderly populations and engaging them in meaningful activities that are useful to them as well as to society. Policies and civil society initiatives in many parts of the world are actively innovating in the social welfare sector to create safety nets for the elderly.

If the theoretical and research focus on later adulthood years shifts to positive development, many creative solutions may emerge. With them will also emerge the need to create contexts and opportunities that support positive growth through the last decade of life. However, preparation for old age must begin in the late 40s or early 50s to buffer the effects of sudden shifts due to retirement and (p. 694) other changes in family life. Mentoring, volunteering, and civic engagement are possible avenues that act as catalysts in the process of successful aging and positive development. However, the trends for these forms of civic engagement in the later years across the world are uneven.

In developed countries, formal programs of civic engagement are already in place, whereas civic engagement in the developing world is still largely informal. More research is required to identify the patterns and suggest models of civic engagement among the elderly in the developing world. Similarly, data are inadequate about gender differences in volunteering in old age in the developing world. Hence, we do not know if enough older women are willing or able to volunteer in their local communities. Similarly, knowledge about sociocultural barriers to elderly women’s positive development within and outside the family are not fully explored. These gaps need to be filled in order to chart policies or interventions in the developing world. This is especially important because the number of elderly in the developing world is growing steadily, and the tables may turn around mid-century.

Nonattachment as a concept is important for service and volunteering during old age. Most world religions explain nonattachment as self-refinement and the letting go of desires. This inward journey is essentially spiritual and hence deemed necessary for smooth passage into old age. Concepts of wisdom and balance within and outside the self are important features of nonattachment. In the same way, shifting from self-focused vision to service- focused action is also a necessity.

Nonattachment is often related to liberation and expansion of the self in the spiritual sense. Service to others or society without attachment or expectations facilitates the process of nonattachment in the true sense. According to Hindu Indian beliefs, nonattachment cannot be achieved without the destruction of desire. This process of destroying desire, even in the form of recognition or fame, will pave the way for selfless, compassionate service. Values of compassion and equanimity are emphasized in the process of attaining nonattachment.

Research evidence is inadequate on ideas of nonattachment, especially those from the developing world. Further research in this area can offer stronger explanations of links between community leadership and nonattachment as internal and external processes.


The author would like to acknowledge the inputs of Ms. Krishna Zaveri, Mr. Vijay Vasava, and Ms. Niyati Pandya in reviewing literature for this chapter.


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