Written by Stannah
The theme for the International Day of Families 2018 is “Families and inclusive societies”. Although the focus is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, we think promoting inclusive societies means much more than that. It means equal opportunities for all, including and especially for our seniors. The first step in creating an inclusive society, is to give all the members of that society a voice, so we thought it would be fitting to devote an article to bridging the gap between generations, by looking at some advice senior citizens have for the younger generations.
Young people tend to forget that seniors were once their age and have gone through similar challenges. The older generation can serve as a valuable source of guidance and insight, as they’re able to help put things in perspective.
Sometimes it may feel like a gulf exists between generations, particularly with changing technology and cultural attitudes, however, bridging that gap is easier than it seems.
In this article, we’ll look at the importance of wisdom passed down from one generation to another, share some pearls of wisdom from seniors, and celebrate the achievements of the younger generations in an ever-ageing and globalised world.
Table of contents:
United Nations: youth building peace
While millennials have been on the receiving end of a lot of negativity lately, on this International Day of Families, we would like to promote inclusion and acceptance and congratulate the younger generation for their role in promoting social justice, social awareness, conflict prevention and sustainable peace.
The way that young people have taken advantage of the web and social media to raise awareness of issues, both locally and around the world, has been nothing short of a game changer. This is a new kind of interventionism that’s very effective at drawing attention to social injustice.
On the one hand, this may remind us of the challenges millennials pose to their grandparents. Many of them are digital natives, part of the first generation not to remember life without the internet or a mobile device. However, interest in modern technologies can often arise from the need grandparents have to stay in touch with their grandchildren. This leads to millennials playing a significant role when it comes to introducing the elderly to new technologies.
This is also true in the workplace as employees aged 18-34 are coming to the aid of senior co-workers who may be unfamiliar with the latest technologies. Therefore, millennials have a key role in the workplace in helping older colleagues adapt to a constantly-evolving digital era.
However, millennials also face some significant challenges. Around the world, depending on the country they’re living in, those challenges may differ, but there are common concerns that have led the United Nations’ World Program of Action for Youth to consider:
“measures to strengthen national capacities in the field of youth and to increase the quality and quantity of opportunities available to young people for full, effective and constructive participation in society.”
Moreover, the program raises awareness of the “delayed or fractured entrance to the labour market” which has lead governments to focus on promoting youth entrepreneurship.
Finally, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon gave a very relevant statement on International Youth Day last year:
“As the world changes with unprecedented speed, young people are proving to be invaluable partners who can advance meaningful solutions. (…) I applaud the millions of young people who are protesting for rights and participation, addressing staggering levels of youth unemployment, raising their voices against injustice, and advocating global action for people and the planet.”
On the path towards a happier and more peaceful way of living, younger generations may struggle with taking in enormous amounts of information while building on their knowledge. They’re great at acquiring knowledge, but may not know exactly what to do with it or how to interpret it.
And it is precisely when life feels overwhelming that younger people may find solace in the wisdom of older generations. That’s when the importance of family comes into play, as wisdom comes with age and brings a clearer perception of life, as it provides a bigger picture of how things fit together.
Does wisdom really come with age?
As the average age of the world’s population continues to rise, seniors have been the subject of more studies than ever before. Recent studies prove older people are wiser and less impulsive, as stated in Psych Central. Here’s why:
“Older people are less likely to respond thoughtlessly to negative emotional stimuli because their brains have slowed down compared to younger people. This, in fact, is what we call wisdom,” said Professor Dilip Jeste of the University of California, San Diego, who led the research study.
This means that what seniors lose in reaction time and brain activity, they gain in decision-making and insight.
The scientific explanation for this statement is that the elderly brain is less dependent on dopamine, which means seniors have better control over their emotions.
This research also led to a new, surprising finding: neurons and synapses continue to grow throughout an individual’s life, meaning that:
“The human brain never stops being able to grow and change which means it is possible for older people to learn new skills.”
Now we know for sure that it’s never too late to learn something new and take some inspiration from younger generations. But what wisdom can elders share with young people in return?
Let’s look at the following case study, where elders of the world had the chance to share their best pearls of wisdom!
Elders of the world sharing their best wisdom
A young Norwegian man, Harald Fairhair, set off on a quest – to travel around the world and collect answers seniors gave to a simple question:
“If you could say one thing to young people out there, what would that be?”
These individuals share their best wisdom with younger generations. It is a truly beautiful example of messages coming from the heart. Listen to these words of wisdom:
When an elder gives advice, it is often smart to listen. They can offer a distinct perspective – something they have learned over time.
As people grow older, what they have in common is the ability to focus on what really matters: they realise that time goes by fast and the value of what’s important in life becomes clear.
- The best currency is love: spend it!
- Life is shorter than you think
- You are unique
- Care for others
- Enjoy yourself
- Be honest
- Be true
- Slow down
- Be yourself
- Look for peace
- Follow your dreams
- Do what you like to do
- Without character, you won’t succeed
While some may argue that these statements are cliché, others may ask: but if this is common sense, how come we find it hard to put this advice into practice? Maybe it’s because we haven’t found out how to do that yet.
Why should we listen to our elders?
Because of all the changes that come with ageing, we tend to see the elderly as people who don’t really understand the context they are living in. This is a stigma that can negatively impact elders and may affect their interactions with others, because they may feel that their opinions are no longer valuable.
You might well be thinking “why should we listen to old people?”
While it is undeniable that senior citizens grew up in a world that was very different from today’s technology-driven society, there are essential feelings and universal truths that remain, regardless of one’s era or societal context.
This is exactly what Karl A. Pillemer states in the Huffington Post article ‘Why Should we listen to old people?’ where he points out two key answers to the question:
1 – Listening to the advice of older people has promoted well-being and even survival for millennia: in prehistoric times, the accumulated wisdom of older people was key to survival.
2 – Elders offer an alternative to conventional wisdom: as surprising as it might be, we found that elders’ perspective often shakes up conventional wisdom, by making us examine our assumptions and make more conscious decisions.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If only I knew then what I know now!
Give it a little thought! There are things you certainly would have done differently and sometimes you may even wish you could go back in time to give your younger self advice.
That’s what Susan O’Malley did (in “Advice from my 80-year-old self”). She took on the challenge of asking seniors the important question: “What would you tell your younger self?” Some of the more surprising answers were:
- It gets more fun!
- Stay in touch with friends.
- Save your money: you’ll need it.
- Look to others for help and to help.
- Travel Before Your Knees Give Out.
- You can’t change anyone except yourself.
Susan O’Malley wrote in the foreword of the book that “No matter how many times I’ve asked it, I am always surprised by how people respond”.
While answers may differ in some ways, they have a common core: they address what really matters.
A Buzzfeed article also listed some advice seniors give their younger selves and younger generations:
- Always go to college!
- Take one day at a time.
- Have a little faith in yourself.
- Stay in school and get an education.
- Make a commitment to your principles.
- Face your fears to reach your full potential.
- Set your goals and work towards them in everything you do.
- Regardless of age, the decisions you make will determine who and what you are – these will colour your life. Make wise decisions and good choices.
- Know who you are before you launch into marriage. Find the good in the ugly.
- Enjoy every day of your life in this world…
- Don’t count the day done until you’ve made the day count. Keep an optimistic attitude towards life and never give up.
- Take advantage of every good opportunity and use it to prepare yourself to be efficient before creating others.
- Be sure you get an education so you can get a good job and take care of yourself.
These statements are very powerful and meaningful, but it’s not always easy to live by them, especially if you’re still young. That’s why it is so important to shed light on the wisdom older generations can give us. There is so much we can learn, if only we are willing to ask and listen!