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.
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.