What value are our older people?

Getting old happens to other people. When I was much younger (some grey hair now) I looked on old people as though they had always been old. Now I can see they they were once smooth of skin and nimble of limb. They once had hopes and visions of a life as 20 year old’s do. Now they see life from a different place.

Today we value productivity, the capacity to think and solve problems, to know how to search the internet, to remember passwords and PINs. But what happens when you can’t do that anymore or not quickly enough for the bright young things whose time it is.

We used to value a different knowledge to the knowledge of the entrepreneurs and opinion makers of today. Our older people learned how to memorise when you didn’t have access to online information sources, to make distinctions between people in society depending on which school you went to and how much you earned, to stay within their social setting and keep their job for a lifetime in uncertain times shaped by devastating depression and world wars.

Draw on the experience of people who have lived longer than you. They might not know how to twitter or google but they often know how to make good decisions (mind you I’ve known a few who are not good at making good decisions), or sort through a difficult moral issue or simply know how to listen well and patiently. They have seen it before probably and are not as phased by it as we can be. A calm mind.

Today I was flicking through a book in a department store and read for few minutes of the wartime exploits of a group of Australian soldiers in WWII imprisoned in Croatia by the Germans, escaped and lived a long and fruitful life judging by the photos in the book. The author has a story to tell that can inspire and cause wonder at the strength of the human spirit and the wisdom gained over the years of living.

Get hold of an older person you trust and talk to them. Involve them in your life. Ask them to be your mentor. Learn from them.

People like the soldier are sources of life for us younger people and much younger. My suggestion is don’t let them slip through your fingers. If you have an older person in your life, treasure them and engage with them, listen to them tell their stories for the umpteenth time, and get them a cup of tea when they want one. Learn patience and the value of waiting.

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