Learning From Our Elders
by Monte Schwartz
Sadly, there are many people in our lives that we take for granted, including the people we love the most and who are the closest to us. For too many of us, this includes elderly loved ones.
In spite of some lip service to the contrary, our culture on the whole devalues the role and importance of seniors in our society. We tend to obsess over the latest and greatest, the here and now, while forgetting the wisdom that our elders have to offer. It’s almost as if they have become an invisible group.
It seems almost ridiculous, doesn’t it? A treasure trove of information that is so often spurned and scorned. Some of it seems to be human nature. Consider the following quote from Mark Twain. “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
To add to the Mark Twain quote, besides viewing our parents as largely ignorant when we’re fourteen, we somehow once again assume we’re much smarter than people who progress to a certain age; at least we act like we are. I’d venture to guess that, just as many of us realize after our teen years just how smart our parents can be, that many look back and appreciate the elders in our life, sometimes when it is too late to tell them so.
I long ago lost track of how many times I’ve replayed conversations with my grandparents. Furthermore, I don’t know how many times I’ve had fictitious conversations with my grandparents (who are all deceased). Deep down I know they provided wisdom and guidance, a wisdom that I know I appreciated from time to time but too often didn’t. What would my grandmother have to say about this, I’ll wonder. What would she have to say about that? Would she approve/disapprove of what I’m doing?
“Listen to your elders’ advice. Not because they are always right, but because they have more experience of being wrong.”—Unknown
If an elderly loved one has passed, honor their memory in the best way you can. For those who haven’t, take advantage of the time you have left with them in the best way you can. The benefits of connecting with and learning from our elders are many. As the well-known verse from Ecclesiastes 1:9 states, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Yes, they really have been there done that! Take advantage of their life experience!
Another great benefit, probably the greatest actually, to spending time with seniors is to simply enjoy the time together. Their stories are unbelievable. They can put flesh and blood to what we learn in school. For example, I’ll never forget working with an older gentleman during a summer job in college who was in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII. Seriously? And there he was to share it with me. I’m grateful to this day.
Enjoy the stories. Appreciate what they went through. Finally, they are usually only too happy to pass their hard-earned wisdom on to us. If it makes the elders in my life happy to make me wiser, maybe I should just let them!