Wisdom from The Elder Corner—Series 2
“Are we being good ancestors?”—Jonas Salk
“…(A)s we seek ways of giving forward to the next generation, we travel home to revisit the anchoring values into which we were socialized.”—Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot
One of the most common ways in which we think of respect in our society is in terms of the Golden Rule–to treat others as we want to be treated–with respect. This is one of the first values we learn as children, and it is one shared by virtually all of the major faith traditions in our world. In addition to thinking traditionally about respect for people, places and “things”, such as values, cultural practices or points of view, I find it helpful to think about respect across the dimensions of time–past, present and future.
As I think about respect for the past, I think about inviting and listening to the stories of our elders–those of our parents, grandparents or others whose lives came before ours but whose stories can teach us and help us form our values. To do this, I help facilitate an elder wisdom luncheon and discussion group for nonagenarians in our community. The reflections of these elders have much to teach us about living out the value of respect across time.
As I think about respect for the present, I try to think mindfully of “the Sacred Now”–the opportunity we have in the present moment to think and act with respect toward those around us and with integrity to the values and characteristics that describe an elder seeking to grow in wisdom. Each day, the “mindful elder” can ask, “How can I live this day in harmony with these qualities? How can I do something today to serve another person or group, or to advance a cause in which I believe?” If I can live into these questions as the day unfolds, I know that I will be living respectfully in the present.
As I think about respect for the future, I cannot help but ask, “How can I serve the needs and best interests of younger generations?” What causes call to me to work today on behalf of the future lives of our young people?” And so I tutor young children and mentor young adults. I help fund schools’ efforts to teach students the social and emotional skills that will serve them for a lifetime. And I support college scholarships for students who are overcoming steep odds as first generation college students. These are not areas in which I expect to see solutions in my lifetime, but I do them for our grandchildren and for all those in their generation and beyond. I do them because I am deeply moved by the words of American author, Terry Tempest Williams, who wrote, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and praying that we can see beyond our own time.” Respect for the future and those who will inhabit it calls for nothing less than the very best we can do to learn from the values of our elders and to strive in the present to serve the future.
Laurence Sterne, an Irish writer, wrote of respect with these words: “Respect for ourselves guides our morals, respect for others guides our manners.” I would add, “…and respect for the children and generations yet to come– and for their viable future–determines our destiny.” And so, as an aspiring sage, I strive to honor and respect the past by listening to and learning from the stories of our elders, to respect the present by working to be an effective bridge between the previous and subsequent generations, and to respect the future by giving of my time, talent and treasure to serve the needs of coming generations. It is what I am called to do–in gratitude to my ancestors and in love for all whose adult lives are yet to come.
Stan Paine is a Certified Sage-ing Leader who has been actively involved in bringing Elder wisdom into his local church community in Eugene, Oregon. We will be periodically publishing several of his blogs on the SI website. Here is the second series.