The seventh stage is that of middle adulthood. It is hard to pin a time to
it, but it would include the period during which we are actively involved in raising children. For most people in our society,
this would put it somewhere between the middle twenties and the late fifties. The task here is to cultivate the proper balance
of generativity and stagnation.
Generativity is an extension of love into the future. It is a concern for the
next generation and all future generations. As such, it is considerably less "selfish" than the intimacy of the previous stage:
Intimacy, the love between lovers or friends, is a love between equals, and it is necessarily reciprocal. Oh, of course we
love each other unselfishly, but the reality is such that, if the love is not returned, we don't consider it a true love.
With generativity, that implicit expectation of reciprocity isn't there, at least not as strongly. Few parents expect a "return
on their investment" from their children; If they do, we don't think of them as very good parents!
Although the majority of people practice generativity by having and raising
children, there are many other ways as well. Erikson considers teaching, writing, invention, the arts and sciences, social
activism, and generally contributing to the welfare of future generations to be generativity as well -- anything, in fact,
that satisfies that old "need to be needed."
Stagnation, on the other hand, is self-absorption, caring for no-one. The stagnant
person ceases to be a productive member of society. It is perhaps hard to imagine that we should have any "stagnation" in
our lives, but the maladaptive tendency Erikson calls overextension illustrates the problem: Some people try to be so generative
that they no longer allow time for themselves, for rest and relaxation. The person who is overextended no longer contributes
well. I'm sure we all know someone who belongs to so many clubs, or is devoted to so many causes, or tries to take so many
classes or hold so many jobs that they no longer have time for any of them!
More obvious, of course, is the malignant tendency of rejectivity. Too little
generativity and too much stagnation and you are no longer participating in or contributing to society. And much of what we
call "the meaning of life" is a matter of how we participate and what we contribute.
This is the stage of the "midlife crisis." Sometimes men and women take a look
at their lives and ask that big, bad question "what am I doing all this for?" Notice the question carefully: Because their
focus is on themselves, they ask what, rather than whom, they are doing it for. In their panic at getting older and not having
experienced or accomplished what they imagined they would when they were younger, they try to recapture their youth. Men are
often the most flambouyant examples: They leave their long-suffering wives, quit their humdrum jobs, buy some "hip" new clothes,
and start hanging around singles bars. Of course, they seldom find what they are looking for, because they are looking for
the wrong thing!
But if you are successful at this stage, you will have a capacity for caring
that will serve you through the rest of your life.