I try very hard not to roll my eyes when I hear someone extolling “the wisdom of the elderly.” To me, it sounds rather patronizing. Yet when I got a lively discussion going here at Live Oak Adult Day Services on the topic, I found that our seniors all disagreed. They feel that, indeed, wisdom does come with age and they do not mind such a generalization. They also agreed that it is rare for younger people to seek their advice based on such hard-won knowledge.
Irene feels that current parents do not raise their children to view seniors as a resource. “I am smarter now than I used to be, so they should be asking me for my opinions,” she states. Mary nodded, telling us that hearing stories from her older, wiser relatives taught her everything she needed to know about life: be nice to people, respect your elders, practice moderation in all things. Thanks to those life lessons, she now sees herself as wise.
It was inspiring to hear the ways in which our other Live Oak seniors also feel they have grown in wisdom. Sheila says that she has always been curious about the world and the people around her, and, now that she is older, she is not afraid to ask questions that once might have given her pause. “I have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain, by asking questions,” she says. Gene says that he thinks back on all of the mistakes he made over the years and realizes that he learned from them. “It is OK to fall and to fail. Learn your lessons,” he says. Lenny agreed and added, “I have also learned from seeing other people’s mistakes, not just my own. There is a lot of bad behavior out there.” That struck a chord with our seniors as they recalled missteps of friends and family. Then Vickie tickled us all when she stated, quite firmly, “I have learned over the years to keep my mouth shut about things that do not involve me.” When asked how she learned that, she said, “I’m still learning it. You’re never too old to learn.”
The last person to speak up was Lisa. Seeing the smile she was trying to hide, I knew she had a humorous comment just waiting to burst free. “I haven’t gotten wiser. I’ve gotten wider,” she giggled. After the laughter died down she realized that she does indeed have some wisdom to share: don’t wear tight jeans! We agreed that there is great wisdom in seeing the funny side of life. There is wisdom in valuing friendships made even in the late stages of life. It is wise to hold back a bit on giving advice, but do not be afraid to share it when appropriate. Dye away the gray hair if you wish, but gracefully celebrate every birthday. You can never go wrong paying a compliment. It is wise to realize that we all have our struggles, our triumphs, our despairs and the adage, “this too shall pass,” is often the best coping mechanism.
I am now the wiser for our discussion. What I saw as a tired trope about our elders is a point of pride for them. It would probably be wise if I no longer roll my eyes when I hear about “the wisdom of the elderly.” It is not a condescending notion, after all. It is a truism