“I Am What Survives Me”
Generativity is an adult’s concern for and commitment to promoting the well-being of future generations. As described by the mid-20th-century psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, generativity emerges as the prime psychosocial challenge of the midlife years, when an adult comes to understand that “I am what survives me.” This chapter traces the philosophical roots of generativity back to Socrates’ discussion of “birth in beauty” in Plato’s Symposium. It explores the subjective experience of generativity, with special focus on the difficulties and paradoxes that sometimes accompany a generative life. The chapter reviews contemporary theory and research on generativity in the psychological sciences. Highly generative adults display a range of pro-social behaviors and attitudes, from demonstrating more effective parenting styles to involving themselves in meaningful ways within religious and civic communities. In American society, moreover, highly generative men and women tend to construct highly redemptive stories for their lives, sustaining hope in the face of adversity and promoting personal growth. Generativity may be viewed as an essential human virtue, albeit an ambivalent one. At the motivational core of generativity are strong needs to promote the self and to commit the self to others, motivational tendencies that often work at cross purposes.