I’m often asked which cultures in the world most value elder wisdom. We all know that the western world sent their elders out to pasture long ago. But, even in places that have culturally respected elders - like Asia and Latin America - we’re seeing more and more young people seek out Google instead of Grandma when they want the answer to a question.
I would say Africa probably has the most reverence for elders (beyond certain global indigenous people like Native Americans, Inuits, and Aborigines) as evidenced by two classic quotes:
“When an elder dies, a library burns to the ground.” (African proverb)
“Where ritual is absent, the young are restless or violent, there are no real elders, and the grown-ups are bewildered. The future is dim.” (author Malidoma Patrice Some)
So, it’s encouraging to see that yesterday Pope Francis established an annual date (the fourth Sunday of each July) to honor grandparents and other elders, lamenting that they are often forgotten despite the wisdom they have to offer society. Of course, this is even more important during our pandemic times as so many young people are physically separated from their elders.
But, this isn’t a one-sided game of young people sitting at the feet of the old who are just dispensing wisdom.
For our elders who are often flowering late in their life, my advice is this, “The modern elder is appreciated for their relevance, not their reverence, because they know the perfect alchemy of curiosity and wisdom. Curiosity allows the elder to understand the context for their wisdom. Curiosity opens up possibility. Wisdom distills down what’s essential.”