When I was about five years old an uncle told me, “You were born a little old lady.” I was not insulted, nor did I disagree. Now I would phrase it as “You were born an old soul”, and today I see quite a number of children who also fit that description. Despite going through the 1960s and agreeing “You should never trust anyone over 30”, I have always secretly looked forward to entering the elder’s lodge.
I adored many of the elders I met when I traveled with Sun Bear. I loved watching their animated craggy faces, etched with the wisdom life had brought them. I enjoyed listening to them tell me both how life had been and how it could be. Many of them liked to talk with me because I would listen with respect and only speak if asked to.
When the snow covers your head, it removes the need for pretenses and for vanity. You know who you are. You know what you think and you are certain in your right to have an opinion. You have passed through the first three stages of life: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and, if you are wise and lucky, you have learned lessons from each. Now it is your turn to share them with those who follow.
In traditional cultures, the elders are revered for their wisdom. The younger people consider it an honor to care for them, to have the opportunity to learn from them. What greater wisdom is there than that which comes from living life?
In today’s culture, we appear to believe wisdom comes to people who have accrued the most things: fame, money, toys, partners, internet views, or social media followers. And the younger they are when they do this, the more we admire them.
The most sought after market is the 18 to 35 year old segment of the population. Why? Because they have the most discretionary income and the biggest desire to spend it.
If you have snow on your head, you almost become a shadow, a person who no longer counts. I guess that is why so many of us put some color on the snow. Rather than being revered, many elders are ignored, or segregated in “over 55” communities or in nursing homes. Young people don’t have time to listen to Grandpa. After all, he might repeat a story they have already heard. And who would think of talking to Grandma about relationships? What could she possibly know?
Now I am not denying that many elders do have problems either physically and/or emotionally. As more people live longer, gravity and adversity do take their toll. People with problems need help. If families cannot give it, these elders are probably safer in a facility that can, hopefully with compassion and dignity.
But many snow-capped people are vital, physically and mentally, and have a lot to share. My life would have been so much poorer if I had not met and learned from the elders who crossed my path. The same might be true for many young people today. How can we make this wisdom sharing more possible in our youth-oriented culture? It will take work from people on both ends of the age spectrum.
If you are young:
1. Think of one good lesson you have learned from an elder. How did it come about? Did you have resistance to hearing what the elder had to share? How did you overcome it?
2. Other than the old man in the movie UP, can you think of an elder you know who has had a great adventure? How did you learn about it? Did it teach you anything?
3. Have you ever asked an elder (grandparent, teacher, clergy, mentor) for advice? If yes, did it help you? How?
4. What is the best story you have heard from an elder? How did you hear it? Did it teach you anything?
5. Do you avoid elders because you think they are boring or just out-of-it? What makes you feel this way? Are you willing to change your thinking and feeling?
If you have snow on your head:
1. Do you enjoy talking with younger people? There is a segment of elders who feel they have already “done their bit” as parents and really don’t want to spend more time with young people. If you are one of these, the rest of these questions don’t apply to you. In fact, I probably lost you at the beginning of the blog.
2. If you like talking with younger people, do you make an effort to keep up with the times? Most younger people don’t like it when elders try too hard to be “with it”, but, if you don’t know that a vine is more than a plant, or a tweet is more than a bird call, communication can get complicated.
3. If a young person asks for your advice, do you attempt to answer without being arrogant or launching in to a lecture?
4. Do you try to remember (and yes we all have senior moments) stories you might have already told a younger person? If you repeat yourself too much, people stop listening.
5. Do you make yourself available to younger people? If your family isn’t open to your wisdom, try to find people who are. You can’t teach if you don’t have students. There are a lot of volunteer positions in which you can help young people who really need it.
6. If you like young children and have patience and the physical ability, many parents would be happy to have a “heart grandma or grandpa” to occasionally give them space from their kids.
7. Spend some time reflecting on your life so you are ready with some good stories that will capture the attention of young listeners. Remember you are now competing with all the adventures available on screens. Young people like action and adventure. Save the philosophy for the somewhat younger adults.
“The Elders Lodge” finishes my first series of blogs, VISION SEEDS. I trust they have helped you consider what your vision is, and how best to fulfill it. In my next blog, which will come out around August 14, I will restate the introduction to this series, and add some material from the intervening blogs.
In my next series of blogs, beginning in late August, and coming out every two weeks thereafter, I will be introducing you to some elders who prove everything I have just written. They will begin the “MY CIRCLE” series of blogs, and begin to fill the “My Circle” page of my website. These elders and some younger people who will be included are all ones whose work I admire. They have sought and lived by their visions. They have had great adventures. They have changed the world. And meeting them in print just might change you.
These first eleven “Vision Seeds” have been the beginning of my elder give away. Introducing you to my circle is a continuation. Jennie Stephens and my young adult novel (which is full of action, adventure, superpowers and earth-based wisdom) is another part of my wisdom sharing, one aimed at younger readers. I have been blessed with a very interesting life and it is now my mission, and my privilege, to share it. Thank you for joining me on this part of my journey.
Copyright 2015 Marlise Wabun Wind