What do the Philippines, many Native Americans tribes, Japan, Zimbabwe and Greece have in common?
They all share cultural values of appreciation and respect for age. „Mano po“ is a Filipino honouring gesture to show respect when addressing someone older. Thereby the younger person bends over and places the older person’s hand on his/her forehead. Numerous Native American legends testify to the deeply rooted respect for elders by featuring wise old people with good advice, such as the legend of Iyash and Old Lady Fox about a hero passing a strange test to earn the advice of a wise elder.
This respect and appreciation make perfect sense considering the following: 600 people aged 60 to 105 have a combined life experience of about 48,000 years. 48,000 years of experience in navigating through the ups, downs and trivialities of life. Add to this the unique experience of extraordinary events in the 20th century that changed the world in an unprecedented way and made the 21st century what it is today.
The ElderWisdomCircle™ is an organisation that aims to utilise and pass on this incredible treasure of knowledge. It is an online platform where people have the opportunity to ask for advice in a letter, which is then answered by one of 600 elders. Together, the 60 to 105-year-old volunteers have already answered over 300,000 letters from – mostly younger – advice seekers.
The existence and popularity of this wonderful project is already reason enough in itself for optimism. However, I would also like to share with you some of the extremely comforting, heartwarming, positive and honest advice that these elders have offered on a number of issues.
What truly matters
Basically, you can ask questions on any topic. But I think the prevalence of certain subjects reveals a lot about which topics really matter to us. Very few letters deal for example with our appearance, owning certain things or material wealth in general, the news, likes and followers, or extreme self-optimisation. Instead, the majority of letters are concerned with our relationships, be it with friends, family, partners or ultimately with ourselves.
Questioning is perfectly normal
The first thing these elders make us understand is that it is perfectly normal to worry and to question big decisions.
For example, GranJan writes: “Your concerns are a perfectly normal, absolutely predictable, important (and often necessary)”. G-ma-Ginny also confirms: “In a situation like this, it’s normal to feel ‘stuck’”, and Salvador makes us realise that feelings are not right or wrong, but subjective: “If that’s how you feel about it, that is fine.”
I still have friends from junior high school
Moreover, they can also put things into perspective and testify from first-hand experience that certain endeavours can succeed. In this way, Good-Listener answers a girl who is extremely sad that her best friend and confidante since childhood has to move away:
“When I was 11 my folks moved, and I had to go to a different school and I was SO UPSET. In those days there were no cell phones, no texts, no email, no computers, etc. But we STILL maintained a friendship because we made the effort.
And you will too. And, with the help of technology, you’ll keep up, daily, if you want. I totally understand your anxiety about it, but the friendship will remain strong. Yes, you’ll meet new friends and so will she, but that’s just more for you to talk about. Try to relax if you can. It will take a little more effort on both your parts…and a little more planning. But I assure you, if the friendship is strong, it will last. I still have friends from Junior High/Middle school and I’m almost 70 years old! Friendships survive moving 3000 miles (or more!) away, and through different lives and challenges. This will, too.”
Love and such
When I read advice related to love and relationships, I initially perceived it as quite harsh. Their often pragmatic, rational and down-to-earth approach seems rather unusual, but actually refreshing compared to the over-romanticised portrayal of relationships that we get conveyed by Disney, love songs, Nicholas Sparks and Co.
Hedwig, for instance, writes unambiguously: „Walk away, Annie, you do not need such people in your life.” G-ma-Ginny‘s view is equally clear: “Your friends and family are correct to be skeptical. Please give it up. […] You might want to stay friends to see if anything changes over time, but do not get involved in any ‘benefits’ as that will keep you emotionally attached to her and not allow you to move on.” Mrs G also confirms in this context that “sometimes we need to realize that our friends love us and don’t want to see us hurt. Based on that, it’s best in your case to listen to them.” And instead of considering that Tony may have found the love of his life (who just doesn’t know it yet), M-Sharon explains: “Sometimes we project our vision of the perfect person onto the individual we like, so that truth and fantasy combine. […] Actually, it seems unhealthy for you. […] You can get over her. Remember, you may have put her on some kind of pedestal.”
This more realistic than romantic advice may result from the recognition that “we need our logical minds and our heart’s emotions, together, to make good choices regarding our relationships.” (G-ma-Ginny)
On a funny note, Good-Listener also thinks that you should rather solve relationship issues yourself and that “you’re smart in not having someone what is often referred to as a ‘wingman’…or ‘wingwoman’, a person who does your work for you with regard to romantic possibilities.”
Should I start gymnastics?
Lastly, I would like to share with you this beautiful answer from Hedwig to a teenage girl’s question if she should still start with gymnastics or not. Even though this particular question might not be of concern to many of us, I believe that the answer is relevant for anyone wondering: “Should I do X?”
“ABSOLUTELY sign up. What do you have to lose? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
You are not going to get any younger. Do you want to sit around at 20 and regret never having tried?
So, what if you are behind the others. You can practice and gain skills. The same is true of anything – for example, if you started to play the violin now, you would be behind the people who started at 7. So what? Many who start young, drop out. If you are really interested in gymnastics and try hard, you are bound to improve.
NEVER LISTEN to the naysayers – the people who are discouraging you. It is your life and your decision. What is the worst thing that can happen? If you don’t like it, you can quit. You are not signing a contract in blood, and I doubt if anyone in your class will end up a professional gymnast. Do it for the fun and for the experience.
My strongest advice is to live up to your name, Faith, and have faith in your decision.”
Other wisdom circle members take the same line, such as: “Who knows where you’ll end up…but the point is, you took a risk and tried this.” (Good-Listener), and “Many changes in life can be a bit risky, but a fulfilling life often requires taking risks and handling the unknown. Good luck!” (Papa-Smokey).
This will all work out in time
Amidst all our worries, these knowledgeable advisors remind us not to be too hard on ourselves and to maintain a positive attitude. Some lines on this are for example: “Listen to your intuition, be kind to yourself Anna.”, and “You are well on your way to success. Be positive, go easy on yourself. Good luck and all good.”
After all, “you can never predict the future, but you can enjoy the present if you allow yourself to dispel past stresses.” (Alexis) And Oslo closes his letter with the words: “Instead of looking for a guarantee that tomorrow will be valuable, know that today is valuable—that you’re not wasting time, but rather living a process of discovery.”
For the final words of this article I give the floor to Lawry:
“I hope that this has been helpful to you, Meg, and I wish you a great deal of luck as you move forward. […] Take care of yourself and think positive thoughts. I am a great believer in that.”
Thanks for your letter and good luck. Best Regards, Windancer
Thanks for reading and to everyone who contributes to the ElderWisdomCircle.