Wisdom of elders

January 21, 2016

This is a remarkable quote and not just for what it says. It’s remarkable because it was in a card that one of my nephews sent us, with a note in which he acknowledged our mentoring. What young person acknowledges the wisdom of elders today?

We were touched when we read it, for certain. It’s the kind of acknowledgment aunts and uncles (and parents, of course) DREAM of receiving from their young people. Sometimes, they’re lucky enough to get it.

We were struck by the insight this young man has, because the fact is, there is no substitute for the judgment of elders, at least most of the time. (I say from my perch, well into my 60s.) It’s also true that many times, young people shake off the input of elders they know, to our frustration. How we’d like to keep our young loved ones from making the mistakes we’ve made! But of course, their mistakes are their own to make and learn from. And nothing teaches more effectively than a mistake.

Wisdom born of age

There is no better feeling than knowing that a young person values the wisdom we’ve garnered over a lifetime. And wisdom is the right term: few of us get to this age without learning important lessons that we want to pass down to those coming up behind us. Sometimes, we get to do that. The talks we have with all our nephews can be deep and rich, intellectual and informative, fun and funny. I really believe we get the best of what these young people have to offer and maybe that’s because we don’t have an agenda.

In these discussions I don’t see much of the defensiveness of the young. The kind of defensiveness  I had with my own parents, who were very different than I. Perhaps we’re not quite as different from today’s young people than our parents’ generation were. Maybe our openness resonates with young people today, I don’t know.

In our talks with this particular nephew, M and I didn’t agree on a particular course of action. Our views represented both ends of a decision continuum and we had no single piece of advice. So we presented them both. Our input was along the lines of “M thinks you should go for it and I think you should roll the dice and here’s each of our rationales.”  Neither of us was wedded to his making a specific choice; we simply gave him our views. We had no skin in this game, not really. The skin was his. He made the right decision for him and we are now enjoying watching him in his new role.

Are we really invisible?

I hear a lot about the invisibility of the older generation and how our counsel isn’t valued now that we’re seniors. Maybe that’s true in some places–high tech industry is one that comes to mind.  But it isn’t true across the board. In some parts of life, the wisdom we’ve gained with age and our perspective is valued. And this note was big proof of that.

Capsule wisdom

So here are a few things I’d tell young adults willing to consider the wisdom of elders. It’s not an exhaustive list (ha!) but just a few pearls of elder wisdom:

Never carry a credit card balance. It’s a sign you’re living above your means and as credit card debt mounts up it’s hard to catch up. I know it’s tempting, but resist. If you can’t afford to pay cash, don’t buy it.

Take input.  There are a lot of people out there who have been through what you’re going through or something similar. If they offer input, take it. It doesn’t mean do what they suggest. It means consider and learn from their experiences.

Think things through.  Take the time needed to really consider all your options and their consequences. Life is long; there’s no need to hurry.

Make your own decisions. Your life is your own. It’s not your parents’, friend’s or anyone else’s.  Hear what they have to say, but make your own decisions and stand by them, because you’re the only one who will have to live with the consequences.

How about you? Have you had the experience of being acknowledged by a younger person for your input?  I’d love to hear about it, and a few of your own pearls of wisdom, below.



24 comments on “Wisdom of elders
  1. anks says:

    As someone who is neither an elder nor really young, I find myself oscillating between the two… Really liked your advice though about taking input…

  2. It’s so gratifying to receive acknowledgement of this kind, Carol. I have received it a couple of times from young people I’ve mentored too. I think young people are open to being mentored, if only we can be more sensitive and not advise, but give show them the options, like you did.

  3. Great advice. I have a couple younger friends in their 20s. They seek wisdom from me..in turn, they have plenty of wisdom to offer me.

  4. deanna says:

    What an amazing not! The advice is great too. I really like the life is your own, I think that is so important and often forgotten. This is a great post, such wisdom!

  5. Great advice that many can use and I love the reminder.

  6. “Neither of us was wedded to his making a specific choice; we simply gave him our views. We had no skin in this game, not really. The skin was his. He made the right decision for him and we are now enjoying watching him in his new role.”

    That’s just about the best in-a-nutshell advice on how to give advice I think I’ve ever read. I get kind of stressed out when people ask me for advice because OH MY GOD I HAVE TO BE RIGHT and I end up going hummanahummanahummana. Love this.

  7. Shalini says:

    Love those pearls of wisdom. And it sure is extremely gladdening to receive such a note from your dear ones. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Barbara says:

    My experience has been that other peoples’ children are more willing to take advice from you than your own children. It’s the rebellion thing, you know. But I take solace in the fact they will experience this with their own soon enough. It is a good feeling to mentor someone and you gave good advice.

  9. Great note, and so true. I like all your advice, especially the credit card balance. We’ve never had one and I think it must be so stressful for anyone who does.

  10. So much to be learned from our elders! The older I get the more I value their input.

  11. One of my favorite pearls is never give up because “no” today doesn’t mean “no” tomorrow.

  12. So opportune that you wrote about this today. Our foster son got married yesterday (without telling us) because he has no wisdom and wouldn’t know wisdom if it slapped him in the face. I know- I’ve tried. Holy Crappolla.

  13. Great advice. I try to think things through and take my time making decisions. I am much better about this now than when I was younger.

  14. andrea says:

    The Bible says we’re supposed to honor our mother and father – and that could also include ALL elders….

  15. Elizabeth O. says:

    It’s definitely touching to know that a family member — a younger one at that takes your advice seriously and applies it to his life. I can imagine how moved you were when you read this. I hope a lot of our kids today would do this.

  16. Sometimes I wish my kids and grand kids could just see what I see and know what I know. I wish now I had listened to my elders more in my younger days.

  17. BellyBytes says:

    Strange as it may sound, I don’t always think elders’ advice is good. I have to deal with this all the time and often find it difficult to ignore. Many times older people are stuck in time warps and don’t keep up with the new changes where their experience may not be applicable.

  18. MyTeenGuide says:

    This is a great list of pearls of elder wisdom. If we could only let the younger ones know what we are trying to tell them.

  19. Tara says:

    This really is great advice. Most of us have a hard time accepting that others know a little more than we might, but all of us should have a mentor and be one as well.

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