The Wisdom of SeniorsBy Charlotte Zang
Wise. That’s a lovely word, isn’t it? It’s comforting, reassuring, and conjures up images of an owl from the nursery rhyme:
A wise old owl lived in an oak,
The more he saw, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard,
Now, wasn't he a wise old bird?
The owl became a symbol of wisdom long before the nursery rhyme was composed. Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom, was often shown with an owl. The Greeks had an idea that owls possessed some kind of special knowledge and inner light that enabled them to see at night.
Our friends at Merriam-Webster define “wise” this way: marked by deep understanding, keen discernment, and a capacity for sound judgment. The Oxford Languages Dictionary says that a wise person is someone “having or showing experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”
Wisdom Comes from Experience
Experience just might be the most important factor in achieving wisdom. Knowledge and good judgment may be a direct byproduct of experience. Many of us who are now known as seniors are wiser than our younger counterparts because we have journeyed farther down the road of life. We've seen the obstacles that may lurk around the corner and have worked hard to overcome them. We know what could happen because we've lived it. Those lessons were learned the hard way. As pyschologist Jordan Peterson said, "Experience is the best teacher, and the worst experiences teach the best lessons." Heeding good counsel is a wise choice.
Young people can benefit from the wise counsel of their grandparents and other seniors even if they don't realize it at the time. Those sayings from a grandparent may not have meant much to a child of 8 or 10 years old, but those same words may echo in your mind as a young adult, serving as an invisible guide for making decisions. I can still hear my grandmother saying, "You already know the right answer. The hard part is doing it."
Take Care of Yourself
When your grandmother told you to eat your vegetables, she wasn’t just fussing at you for no reason. She knew that it’s important to take care of our bodies. After all, we’re going to need them for a long time. Chronic disease is a terrible thing. Some of the causes are smoking, poor nutrition, being physically inactive, and abusing alcohol, all of which can be prevented by taking care of the body we’ve been given.
Be Calm and Carry On
Senior citizens often take a calmer, less dramatic approach to the bumps along life’s highway. They are better at controlling their emotions. Younger people may be distraught over solving a challenging issue, but when asked how to handle it, an older and wiser person might suggest, “Things have a way of working themselves out.” We know that the more you think about something, the more important it becomes, whether it is or not. Time has a way of smoothing out the rough edges, so it isn’t necessary to get all wrought up over trivial things.
Get Up & Go!
As many seniors know, traveling gives perspective that we just can’t get when we never venture beyond our neighborhood. Traveling – whether in service to the country, for work, or on vacation – has a positive effect on people. Memories are made that will last a lifetime. Seeing the way others live opens up our world, teaching us to respect their culture. Visiting another country – or even another state –reminds us that while people may have different ways of doing things, we are actually all very similar.
Seniors know how valuable it is to go somewhere we’ve never been, meet people, and try new things. They often encourage young people to travel while they can. There is no telling when a health issue will limit one’s activities. Travel now, when you can, they say. Broadening your horizons can make a significant impact on how you (and your children) view the world. Don’t put things off for a day that may never come.
One older gentleman I know always said it was important to give people the benefit of the doubt and to forgive quickly. This sage advice can be difficult to put into practice. We want to be angry at an offense because we feel justified. We want to respond in the same manner or get revenge. Mature people know that life is short and things are not always what they seem. Retaliation doesn’t solve a problem or make things better. It certainly isn’t worth holding a grudge. That becomes a heavy burden to carry, weighing us down, keeping us from moving forward and enjoying life.
You’ve Earned It!
Even those who didn’t get straight A’s in school are considered wise when they enter their golden years. That’s the reward after decades of experience, navigating all that life throws at us. Wear that label proudly! Hold your head high, knowing that you have inside information and much to offer the world.
Maybe just as important as wisdom is something else that comes with age: seniors often have more compassion and empathy, two things that are sorely needed today. We love our children and our families and each other. We forgive more easily. We laugh and share, appreciating the special joys of life. Perhaps those are the best things that come with more candles on the cake.