Valuing Our Elders

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

Those who have followed this blog know that I’ve written about generational similarities and differences, Baby Boomers, becoming more connected, and being in integrity. In this post I’d like to weave these subjects together and address the importance of valuing our elders. Why? Because doing so is kind, courteous and necessary.

While each is defined differently, I see enough similarity in the words: honoring, favoring and respecting – to view them as interchangeable when talking about our older generation.

Honoring elders is customary in indigenous cultures where older people are respected and used in a socially integrative manner, passing on survival-based wisdom to the next generation. Sadly, in the youth oriented culture of modernity, our elders are not valued or used in this way and as a result, suffer a loss of self-esteem, self-worth and a sense of purpose. To address the challenges of today’s world, when there is not one part of our biosphere not under threat of extinction, we need to consider the value of all humanity.

There used to exist a concept called ‘elders.’ Seemingly they were these kind, wisdom-filled seniors who we could turn to in times of doubt for inspiration and teachings. They were no longer in a position of power but they were still held in high regard for they had survived life’s hardships and lived to tell the tale. They knew the obstacles in our paths because they had walked those same journeys. They could be called upon for and wisely shared advice.

Unfortunately, many elders haven’t been able to keep up with the accelerating pace of environmental issues, modern child rearing, lightening fast technological developments, social change and its related complexities, etc. They don’t possess the knowledge or experience to solve the problems that we face today. This is not to suggest that they have little or nothing to offer. Quite the contrary. But we have to think carefully how we can involve our elders so as to not frustrate or overwhelm them. They do have valuable insights and knowledge.

If the concept of ‘elders’ is to come back into our culture, then we are going to have to behave in a way that our young can respect us. As it is now, most youth do not trust their political leaders, the media, their educators, or even their own parents to be intelligent, honest, and compassionate. If we are to be seen as ‘elders’ some day, then we must earn their respect today.

Which begs the question: What can we do today to value, respect and/or honor our ‘elders’? Here are three suggestions:

  • Listen. One of my favorite acts. More than anything else, listening conveys love and respect. We communicate more by listening than we do by speaking. We do well when our ears are quicker than our tongues. Simply listen.
  • Slow down. Elders value not being rushed. They appreciate taking their time to talk and enjoy each other. The same is true with kids! We can honor our elders by walking their pace and refusing the urge to glance at the clock, never mind our mobile devices.
  • Ask advice. We might not always agree, but asking and really weighing their thoughts is a good way to show them respect. It wasn’t all that long ago that people asked people for advice. Google wasn’t around. No computer generated answer will ever compare to the wisdom in the white hairs of our elders. What a concept: advice with skin. 🙂

38 thoughts on “Valuing Our Elders

  1. I was glad to see the word ‘wisdom’, alas towards the end of the blog, but there nevertheless…the other word that comes to mind is experience .

  2. Beautiful post Eric, thanks.
    It begs mention of yet another destructive practice of these modern times, in which elders are thrust into the corners of society – in homes – unlike in the past where families lived together…

    • So many societies find the elderly disposable. They quietly (sometimes overtly) encourage them to quietly drift off to the sidelines. That is unfair and does a disservice to all of us. Thank you for your kind and poignant comment.

  3. Hi Eric, I agree that our culture has mostly lost respect for elders, leaders, etc. Maybe elders being oder and wiser, might initiate communication/ connection with younger generations, reaching out to bridge the gap? What do you think elder Eric?

    • Elder Eric? Does that suggest I ought to call you a Whippersnapper? 🙂 To your good question, Brad, I believe it has to be a mutual “reaching out” – based in desire and a willingness to want to understand. Connections are so vital that if there isn’t joint initiation, both generations are going to end up on the short end.

  4. Great post. The elders of my generation always had a hard copy of everything. Their mistrust of technology is extremely beneficial when your computer crashes. Documents were always preserved in an old bible or a shoe box or something. 🙂

    • Indeed beneficial! The existence/preservation of documents may still be useful, what with more and more people expected to suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Thanks for reading and commenting iB. 🙂

  5. great post on a topic that lies in the background. I was just telling somone tonight how important indigenous cultures are , especially now with the problems we face. I hope that we will soon begin to appreciate wisdom in all its forms. love the character quote!

    • Creating awareness of the value for and appreciating wisdom is definitely important. We could, indeed, learn some valuable lessons from indigenous cultures. Will we before our current path takes an irreversible toll? I love the character quote, too. Thanks for engaging, Linda.

  6. Great post. If you are older and have lived a full life, you have experienced more, read more, and learned more than the younger generation. It is not that older people are no longer wiser than the younger generation it is rather that this generation no longer seem to value wisdom as long as they have access to data. Similarly the young seek above all to be connected and have lost the knowledge of the benefits of solitude. Hopefully this will change as new generations bring new values to the table and perhaps even revisit old ones.

    • An interesting contrast, Malcolm: connectedness and solitude. They are not mutually exclusive. One can actually heighten awareness and appreciation for the other. A desire and willingness to share and exchange knowledge and perspectives often yields understanding. To your closing thought, inspiring hope and bridging gaps is key. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

  7. Thank you for your comment, nightlake. It is so very true that ignoring or isolating our elders is unkind and often, counter-productive. It’s beyond easy to engage and appreciate them. After all, we’ll one day be in their shoes. I think we know how we’d like to be included/treated?

  8. I have just experienced what I call ‘uncivilized cruelty’ to patients over the age of 70. I spent a few days in the hospital recovering from extensive spinal surgery and being the youngest of patients there, I could not believe the treatment everyone, including myself, were facing. It simply breaks my heart to see anyone, requiring medical assistance or not to be treated like they are of no use. I am home now recovering with loved ones; most are not that fortunate. When I am stronger, I will return. I know I cannot save the world but I can possibly make a difference. Thank you Eric for a beauty write and gentle reminder that we are ‘One’ no matter where we live or how hold we are ~

    • The concept of we are “One” is so simple, valuable and important. We must do what we can to honor and appreciate our elders. To some it may be a choice. To me (and thankfully, others) it is a welcome obligation. Thank you for your share, as frustrating as was the experience. I hope you are continuing to strengthen and heal!

  9. This is a great post Eric.

    Trust and respect is a deeply important issue in our world today. I have told family and friends that I can best serve you by providing my wisdom of life instead providing you money. My statement is at times taken by the those who want something immediately, however their expression of rolling of the eyes and exhaling deeply, indicating that i’m boring them with wisdom that isn’t appreciated or asked for.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and thank you for such insightful post.

    • Coincidence, perhaps happenstance. It’s interesting our blog paths have crossed, Erik. Just read about your encounter with Feliciano. I get it. In this ‘return of favor’ link, I’ll share a post in which I speak briefly about a chronologically gifted woman (she was 87 at the time) who in less than 24 hours, shared wisdom that has stuck with me since.

      I actually told the story about Rose in a speech contest and (sans modesty) wowed the audience — and judges. I’ll share the speech text with you if you’re interested.

      As an aside, I see you hail from my old stomping grounds. I was once a Jersey guy, too. Lived and worked in Manhattan for 10 years.

      And the fact that you are a listener. That’s huge. Glad to have connected. I look forward to following your blog.

      • Eric – I would love to read your speech. You can send it to my email Conover.er@gmail.com if you like.

        I’m born and raised a Jersey guy, moved down to NYC last year right after I graduated from Northeastern University in Boston with a degree in business. Now I find myself studying theater and writing. There is nothing like New York.

        I love to listen to a good story. I’m glad I came across your story.

  10. Eric, this is a stirring post. Listen; don’t rush; ask for advice. Did you ever see a movie, “Finding Forester”? A younger fellow (high school) connects with an older writer (nearing the end of his life) … I think it exudes some of the theme you are talking about. Later.

    • I have not seen the movie, Tim, however I’ll add it to my home viewing list. Thanks for the prompt. Always appreciate your creating time to read posts here and sharing your thoughtful comments!

  11. Hi Eric,
    I absolutely love this post. I have recently returned from celebrating my mother’s 93rd birthday and spending two weeks with her. I found myself having many of the thoughts you wrote about here as I watched her being discounted because she is old, hard of hearing, has trouble comprehending what others are talking about, and is losing her vision.
    I came home prepared to write a blog about it and here was your blog waiting for me to read. I’m still going to address the subject from my experience this past 2 weeks and thank you for writing about it.

  12. Dear Eric, As a caregiver for my Mother, this really resonated for me. I thought I was returning home to sadness and grieving, but it has been an opportunity to see my Mother as the amazing person she is, and I can see where I got my values from and I am learning from her wisdom. The world has changed so much in her lifetime, it is such a treat to hear her stories – after all, isn’t that the best way to learn, from the wisdom of others. Peace, Harlon

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