From the time you were a child you probably had your parents and various other people telling you, “Respect your elders.” I’m sure this put a sour look on your face (as it sometimes did mine) because you thought you were being funny, you were only being a kid, but you were really being disrespectful. The fact that your parents (and mine) were attempting to instill the idea of respect is a positive thing. They were trying to make you a better person, raise you right. They were trying to teach you to respect the people around you.
In today’s world, I don’t think the elder population is treated the way they should be, especially by the younger generations. Most of the time they’re brushed off, ignored, left alone. They are thought to be incompetent, a burden and even a drain on society.
This not respecting your elders.
And we’re all headed in the same direction, as far as aging is concerned.
The reality is, these people can teach us things.
Remember all those historical events you learned about in high school; WWI, WWII, The Great Depression, among many others. Have you ever asked anyone who was alive during that time what it was really like to have these things happening around them? Have you even thought to ask? Sure you can learn from a text book, but it can only teach you so much. A text book can’t relay the pain of losing a brother or a son to war. It can’t show you the joy on a child’s face after receiving a new pair of shoes. No, texts books can only show you the facts.
It’s been my experience that a first-hand account is best. Over the years, I’ve found you can learn more from asking then any text book could ever teach you.
I’ve often asked my grandpa to tell me stories about his experiences in WWII. I’ve asked him to tell me stories about his parents and immigration. I’ve asked him to tell me stories about the places he’s been, the things he’s seen and the people he’s met along the way. Sometimes I ask him to just tell me a story, any story.
My grandma’s the same, a vessel full of stories. I’ve asked her tell me what it was really like growing up during The Great Depression, if she remembers FDR’s Fireside Chats coming in over the radio. I’ve asked her to tell me what it was like to have brothers in the war, what they had to say about the combat of certain battles and how it felt when they came home.
I’ve asked my grandparents a number of things over the years. I love history and listening to people’s stories. I’m curious and want to know, to keep growing. I’ve learned things I never would have found in a text book, or even on the internet. Regardless, I believe it’s important to somehow record these stories, even if it’s by memory, because one day all these people will have passed on from this world and their stories will go with them.
My grandparents aren’t the only ones who have taught me a thing or two. I’ve learned from friends, family friends, my grandparent’s friends and the list goes on.
Back in January I wrote about a teacher I had in college who, afterward, became a friend. He was an older man, so most of the people in class wrote him off as just that; old. If only they could’ve seen how much he could’ve taught them. He told me numbers stories of old-time newspapers, of what it was like being an editor, what it was like being a reporter (and some of the things he did to get his stories would never fly in today’s world) and life in general.
It seems to me that the younger generations don’t know how to respect their elders (although, I’m sure some of you do). They’re brushed aside as people wonder, “What do they have to offer?” The truth is, they have so much to offer. They are a window to the past, which is just as important as the present and the future.
My suggestion, or challenge, to you is to show them more respect. Find a grandparent, a family friend, anyone you have a remote acquaintance with and have a conversation. Ask them what it was like growing up, what it was like to experience some of these big events. Simply ask them to tell you a story, any story. I guarantee you’ll put a smile on their face and learn a thing or two in the process.