As a photographer and writer, I am incredibly curious about aging. What does it mean to get older in America? How do we view the process and those that are ahead of us? What are the blessings and what are the challenges? And why can’t we see aging for what it is without trying to pretend it isn’t happening to us? Getting older is a normal part of life which I believe is to be celebrated! So, in conjunction with the Wise Women Project I am excited to announce the launch of the Magnificent Men Project! These are their stories. Want to participate? Learn more here.
Name: Geoffrey Shōun McDonnell O’Keeffe
Age: 68 years, 233 days.
What is your primary work today?
I am the Executive Director of Zen Peacemakers International, a non-profit with over 3,000
members in dozens of countries engaged in a range of activities including bearing witness
retreats, street retreats, socially engaged Buddhism, social action, Zen entrepreneurship, the
arts, education and training and direct relief and support for those most in need.
I am also a board member and vice-president of Eon Zen Center in Boulder, Colorado.
Finally, I am an amateur writer (you can read Geoff’s work at okeeffewoodworks.com and he is anything but amateur!).
How has your professional life evolved as you became older?
I left my career working for outdoor companies in 2015, which I had done 39 years, and began
consulting. In early 2020 I joined Zen Peacemakers. So, I was graced with being able to take the
tools and skills I had learned and developed in the commercial world and apply those to a
mission very close to my heart.
More personally, after a number of years, we all learn what works and not, we spot blind alleys
before wandering into them, and we take the foibles and failings of ourselves and our fellows in
stride and hold those more lightly. Perhaps this is maturity or a “long view”.
Has your age affected your work in any way?
In many ways. As a white, European male I am at the top of every privilege pyramid.
Nonetheless, age discrimination does exist, and I saw that. If I were a sixty-year-old Black
woman, of course this would be magnified. Especially in an industry like the one I inhabited;
youth is a value. So be it. I’m no longer young, so I am less valued.
Mostly, I have to say that age has impacted me positively. My lessons and learnings are hard-
won, and I wouldn’t trade them for youth.
One challenge is to work daily to stay clear to distinguish between what is a hardening of ideas
and opinions and what is real wisdom gained from experience.
Perhaps finally (though so many things come to mind) I no longer feel I have anything to prove.
That is enormously freeing.
What do you wish the younger generation understood about men over 50?
Tough question. I have never asked that. To be honest, I don’t care. And truly, men over fifty are
not monolithic. I have hundreds of younger friends and colleagues and acquaintances, and I try
to approach them individually, just like older friends. If they “get me”, they do. If not, so be it. I
am as interested to get them as well. While the idea of “generations” is useful for marketers and
demographers and social scientists, I find it encumbering and capable of producing bias and
misunderstanding. So, I try to avoid it.
What worries you most about the future?
Widespread dimming of our intelligence.
Humans’ continued alienation from themselves, from their true nature, from culture and ritual,
the natural world and one another.
What is the hardest thing about getting older, in your opinion?
My body has begun its slow demise. It makes some physical activities more difficult or
impossible. Youth and vigor were always my security. I was confidant I could deal with every
adversity. Less so now.
What is the best thing about getting older, in your opinion?
Clarity about death.
A thousand stories that may or may not be true but tell well.
Family, friends, loves, acquaintances, all over the world.
Patience and perspective.
I have the opportunity to see my patterns and habitual behaviors clearly. Or not. But they are all
right there on display, over and over again. I can learn from them and grow or deny what’s
obvious and become a crotchety old curmudgeon or worse, a Trumpian narcissist.