When was the last time you have had a conversation with an old person? When I say old, I don’t mean older; I mean over 65 years old. Considering that “old” is in fact a relative term, 65 is still 37 years older than myself. The point that I’m making is, talk to an old person. The things that they say can range from rude and humorous to wise and profound. Depending on your sensitivity level and state of mind, talking to an older person can be painfully awakening. You have to keep an open mind a lot of times, because they will say whatever they feel they need to say or you need to hear. Some kind of way though, when they say what it is they have to say, no matter how offensive, often times you will listen.
This is because most people who have lived to that age, have come to realize what is important in life and what is not. The silliness of getting what someone else has simply because they have it, has passed years ago. At this point in their life, keeping up with the Jones’ is the last thing on their mind… They watched Mr. Jones die of a heart attack working overtime to keep Ms. Jones happy. So they know that enjoying each other is what’s important, instead of trying to make life’s enjoyment out of the accumulation of material things. Therefore, anything they say to you, will be simply that which was said. There will be no drama behind their statements. They will not be in competition with you, or striving with you, or will have any ulterior motives behind whatever they say. When you hear honesty on that level, and don’t have to consider where or why it is being said, it’s easier for you to listen.
Now I know that every person 65 or older will not be this way. It has to be someone who is content with being where they are in life and can truly appreciate the journey that they had to take to get there. If they speak from that point of view, they will only say things to advise well, or warn you of pitfalls. For example, if an older lady tells you, “I don’t think you should pay $500 for those shoes,” she saying that probably because she knows better the value of $500 than you do. Now if a peer told you the exact same thing, you may think, “She just don’t want me to have them because she can’t afford them.” Now this may not be true at all, but the receptiveness of the same message from an older person versus a peer makes the world of difference. There are plenty of older people though who have not accepted their roles in life as being advisors and examples to the youth, and instead want to stay in the runnings with them; these are not the ones I’m talking about and you can tell the difference.
The good part is the amount of information you can learn from them. They basically give life lessons for free and look forward to conversing and sharing with young people. There are Big Brother and Big Sister clubs all about the nation. I would be an advocate for a similar program where young adults were paired with a eligible senior citizens to simply talk to a couple times a month. Because with the generational gaps being blurred by the family breakdowns, Stellas getting their grooves back, Cougar towns, and Papa’s stones rolling all over the place, the respect and reverence for older people are slowly disappearing. Preserving that respect is key to the cycle of building a successful society/culture. If children really are the future, there has to be a clear cut difference between generations so that the youth will know who to learn from and go to for life advice. Some things can not be taught from a peer; so I, personally, spend every chance I get asking and probing older people for information. What I want to happen is that I learn as much as possible from a senior citizen as young as I can. That way, by the time I make it to their age, not only will I know what they knew, but maybe I will have learned even more to pass down to the generation beneath me.
The most recent bit of information that I received from an older person was simple, but extremely relevant to common socializing. It’s something that nearly all of us go through with our friends. We have all had that friend who continually does the same dumb things over and over, right? The advice that I was given to that type of situation was:
“If a person’s conscience don’t whip them, then you can’t whip them. You can’t change a person’s mind; they have to do that on their own.” So basically, you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. You hear cliche´ phrases growing up without ever really knowing what they mean or how to apply them— but if you talk to an older person, who has been where you are, you might be able to learn that lesson a few years ahead of schedule if instead of waiting on experience to teach you.
Another thing I heard just last week was: “Those are some ugly shoes.” He just forgot to turn off the filter that connects the brain to the mouth. I laughed because that’s truly how he felt about the shoes I was wearing. Even though I felt as though they were fashionably acceptable and appropriate, none of that meant a hill of beans to an old man who knows that life is more than vainglorious coverings. Now if someone my own age had said the same thing, I would have probably had a totally different reaction. A man of seventy plus years has earned the right to at least say what’s on his mind, and if I can’t humbly take his statement as an vocalized opinion of an elder and someone that I should learn from, then I may be the one with the real problem. I pray that in my old age, I carry more tact in my speaking though. Maybe that is what I can add to the chain for the next generation.
Bottom line— Try to spend more time talking to older people, especially if you have some easily accessible to you. You may be surprised at what your eyes can be opened up to or what you can learn. That way, when we all get to be old, we will have actually accumulated valuable life lessons to pass down to the next generations, and not just material things that can neither add or take away integrity, honor or moral value.