Lessons from Our Elders: Are You Embracing Their Wisdom?

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by Bee Quammie

Elders are proof-positive that time vortexes do exist - possessing a past that is unseen to us, co-existing with us in the here and now, and offering a glimpse into the future at the same time. It’s usually quite easy to dismiss the commentary and counsel from those who were here before we were. We scoff at the “When I was your age” statements because we know that the world has flipped and twisted around itself in the time between then and now. Their attempts to guide us down roads they've already traveled are met with a flippant "Oh, you wouldn't understand" - and the wedge between them and us is hammered into place.

Older generations sometimes chide the younger for thinking that we know better than them. I'd posit to say that we don't think we know better, we just don't think they know us and the world we live in. All it takes, however, is one moment of synchronicity - one magical fold in that time vortex where we meet and realize we have more in common than we think.

One of my side-hustles is as a Community Health Ambassador for a women's health centre. In a recent workshop on physical activity, I noted that my attendees spanned an age range of mid-twenties to late-sixties. In contrast to my initial speculations, I was surprised to find that the older women were much more physically active than the younger, and offered many more resources and tips for healthy active living. Many of them cited free time with retirement, recovery from illness and injury, and the loss of life partners as the motivation to get moving and get healthy, and the unfolding dynamic was beautiful to see.

Coming into the workshop, I could tell that some of the younger attendees seemed dismissive of the elders, but that quickly changed. One elder woman opened up about the devastation of losing her husband, and that resonated with a younger woman who recently lost her best friend. Though decades apart in age, the room was electric with connectivity as they realized that their grief processes were nearly identical. Because the elder had lost her husband some years prior, she was able to give some tangible advice to the younger, who experienced loss much more recently. In that instant, the elders saw that the younger do indeed hear them, and the younger saw that a teachable moment could be genuine and rooted in equality. The workshop took on an entirely different tone after that - one of openness and mutual respect.

When I left that day, I thought back to my own experiences with the elder women in my life. I always imagined myself to be someone open to the lessons of those who’ve come before me, but an honest self-assessment showed that there was much to be desired in that realm.

Relationship issues? There’s no way they could understand.

Juggling a 9-5 while trying to make a paycheque out of my passions? They wouldn’t get it.

Figuring out my way in the world as a young Black woman? In 2014, I don’t think they’d be able to truly relate.

Admittedly, my knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the chasm between us is too wide, with no fathomable way to meet in the middle. Because of that, most conversations with my elders saw me offer a polite nod and smile, maintaining respect by keeping my mouth shut and not interjecting with the multitude of ways that their reality wasn’t reflective of mine. When I challenged myself to not just actively listen, but to ask questions of the women in my life who have withstood more years than I, I learned that my knee-jerk reaction was wholly incorrect. Acknowledging that times have changed is one thing. Both parties being willing to set that aside and dig deeper to find those common emotions, experiences, and lessons is entirely another.

One day, I will be that elder who wishes nothing more than to be able to connect with and impart my wisdom on the youth around me. That transition has already begun - attempting to help and being hit with a “You just wouldn’t get it” from my younger sister who is dealing with the complexities of social media and school made me realize that our positions in life change much faster than we know.

Perhaps my new motivation to be open to the time-worn wisdom around me is part of a selfish grab at some kind of future karmic benefit - but we all reach new levels of enlightenment one way or another. Remembering the powerful moments of connection between the generations that I’ve both witnessed and experienced is more than enough for me. May we all walk with our ears and hearts a bit more open than before.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Bridget "Bee" Quammie is a Toronto-based healthcare professional, writer, social media consultant, and founder of 83toinfinity.com. Recognized by Black Enterprise and the 2014 Black Canadians Awards for her digital work, Bee aims to live '83 To Infinity's motto: "It's never too late to learn something new, do something new, or be someone new." Follow her on Twitter at @BeeSince83.

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