I loved talking with my grandmother and gleaning words of wisdom from her. She wasn’t college educated but her common sense was unbelievable. I’ve missed those times we spent together and the fantastic insight she gave me. So it hit me one day that it would be great to come up with questions about life that I could ask senior citizens so I could get insight from them. That’s exactly what I did so I ended up calling it the Words of Wisdom Project. Here are some of the questions along with their feedback:
1) There is a major obesity problem among adolescent children (more than tripled in last 30 years to 20%) that didn’t exist when you were kids. Why do you think this is happening? We didn’t have access to food like children do today. Our parents had very little snacks in the house (mostly cookies in a jar) and they watched it closely. Of course this is where the phrase :“Don’t get your fingers caught in the cookie jar!” came from. We didn’t have the vending machines that are available or fast food restaurants. We had to eat at home where our parents knew what we were eating and how much we were eating. We were much more active because we weren’t allowed to sit around. If we were caught sitting around the house we were told we could either go outside and play or help out with chores. So we’d end up getting exercise through playing games like baseball, kickball, riding bikes, playing tag, etc.
2) People stayed married longer in your generation compared to what’s happening today (In the U.S. 50% of first marriages, 67% second marriages, and 74% third marriages end up in divorce). Why did marriages last longer? Getting a divorce was considered taboo. If you were a divorcee’ you were kind of shunned by the community; so it was something everyone tried to avoid. Also, women didn’t have many options to leave because they couldn’t make it financially on their own. So even if they were in a bad marriage they couldn’t get out of it. We also think it was much harder to leave a marriage back then because everyone loved each other more (I admit I wasn’t expecting to hear this). Since we spent more time together as a family we built better bonds. We’d eat together, play games together, we’d ride around together. We considered marriage to be more enjoyable so leaving it didn’t sound so good. Since families today don’t grow together it’s only natural they would grow apart. Because of how families today are going all kinds of different directions it’s easier to leave because you don’t have as much keeping you there.
3) Can you give me a couple of reasons why you think it’s better to stay married than to get a divorce? All you have to do is watch TV and you’ll see so many dating sights. Most people want to find someone to marry. Once you’re married you realize that even when times are rough it would be even worse if you lived alone. Loneliness is one of the most awful feelings to experience. Plus there’s something very comforting in knowing that no matter where you go, like a party or moving to another town, you always have someone you know and are comfortable with.
4) What advice would you give a young couple just getting married? Of all the things you could tell them, what are three things that you think would be most impactful to keep their marriage on track? First and foremost they should make sure they’re marring the right person. If the reason they’re getting married is only because they love one another than they might end up with problems down the road when the fog of love starts to dissipate. Little problems that you overlook when you are madly in love become larger problems when the love fades a bit. We’d recommend that every couple considering getting married go to a qualified marriage counselor. They need to know what marriage is about; the good, the bad, and the ugly. A counselor knows how to make sure a couple’s expectations are properly set. And lastly, of all the people a married person should try to impress in the world, their spouse is the most important.
5) What are five recommendations you’d give a young couple who is asking about how to best raise their children? Lay out clear expectations as to what is expected of them and manage them just like you would an employee at work. Give your children structure don’t have a house that’s out of control. Be consistent in their disciplining. Both parents need to use the same techniques and if the child does something wrong the punishment should be given quickly and consistently; meaning you can’t punish them one time for something and then not the next time for the very same offense. Once parents aren’t consistent in their discipline their child will no longer worry about bad behavior. If this happens when they’re young, their parents will go through a nightmare when their child becomes a teenager. Be involved in what they’re doing. Parents are so busy these days with work they don’t take time to know about their child’s life like what they’re studying, who their friends are, etc. Not only does it protect your child by knowing what’s going on in their life, you also demonstrate that you love them. Even if a young person doesn’t want to admit it they want to feel your presence. The fourth thing we’d recommend is to stop filling limited family time with so many activities. This causes everyone in the family a lot of stress. Even though you might think your child will benefit from being involved in a bunch of activities, they’re actually better off being at home. Lead by example: all the characteristics you want your child to have (i.e. being kind to other people, being honest, having a good work ethic, etc.) are caught not taught. They certainly aren’t going to learn these things anywhere else.
6) Most young people today switch jobs every couple of years compared to your generation which generally tried to stay with the same employer. Do you think it’s the employee or the employer who is the main cause of this? Mostly the employees fault. Because of lack of good parenting, young people don’t think they should work hard to get anything and when promotions and raises don’t come quickly they move on. For some reason it often takes them a long time (and a lot of jobs) to figure out that all companies are the same; you earn your way to the next level. They also get bored too easily so they quit. Our lifestyle was much simpler back then so it wasn’t filled with things every second of the day. We didn’t need constant stimulation so we didn’t get bored as easily. Plus I think we looked at work differently. It was a job not a place to get personal fulfillment. We stayed in our jobs because we didn’t have the high expectations kids do today. We think the term rewarding is misunderstood. A reward is something you get when you give. So pay is a reward for your work. “Rewarding” doesn’t mean a job that’s wonderful.
7) If you could go back in time and have a do-over what are three things that you would try to do differently? In other words if you had a chance to mentor a young person, what might you tell him or her that would prevent them from making the same mistakes that you made? Be willing to take some risks. If there is something you want more than anything else in the world consider going after it. What you don’t want is to be as old as we are and wonder “what if?” Another thing we’d tell them is that family and friends will become one of the most important things to you when you get older so make sure and focus on developing good relationships with them now. The third thing we’d recommend is to never stop taking care of yourself physically and mentally. There are a lot of people in assisted living facilities who are in their 70’s and 80’s who can’t get around well because they didn’t prioritize their health along the way. Also the moment you stop learning is the moment you start dying. The people we’re around who are engaged in our community are the ones who are still reading books, newspapers, even taking some college course for the fun of it. This quote is very applicable to what they told me: “You don’t stop doing things because you get old; you get old because you stop doing things.” – Rosamunde Pilcher
8) A large percentage of high school students (30%) drop out. Do you think that most of the blame belongs with the parents, school, or student? Although everyone is to blame at some level, it all starts with the parents. A child needs his or her parents to be involved and of all the areas that need attention, education is certainly one of the most important. Kids need to know that applying themselves in school could make or break their life.
9) Just about everyone worries about getting older; since you’ve made this journey what would you tell younger people about it? Life as a senior citizen is what you make of it just as it is for everyone. We’re no happier or sadder than we were when we were younger. We still enjoy eating out with friends, having them over or going to their house, playing cards, watching a movie ect., so in many ways nothing has changed. We certainly can’t do some of the things we enjoyed doing when we were younger but you end up finding other things that are just as much fun.
10) You’ve probably experienced a lot of loss in your lifetime; what do you think is the best way to handle losing someone you care about. The secret is to think about the good times you shared not how their life ended. Their death and what led up to it was a fraction of their time on earth. Someone once said: “Don’t be sad it’s over, be happy it happened.” If someone’s death hurts you then it must be because you consider it a significant loss. You probably consider it a loss because you loved them and had great times with them at one time in your life. With this mind, train yourself to think about good stories when your mind begins to think about the person you lost. Think about funny stories that happened. Don’t most families sit around during holidays and make fun of each other for funny things that happened? If it were you who died wouldn’t you hate it if when they looked back on losing you that it made them sad? We should treat a loss just like we’d want it to be treated if we were the one who passed away.
It’s my opinion that we miss a lot of wisdom because we don’t take the time to talk to seniors in our community. There are a lot of other cultures who treat their elders with immense respect; they don’t shelve them somewhere and forget about them.
The greatest blessing for me when I spoke to these senior citizens was the joy they had in giving me advice. Most of us get some form of identity from our jobs and it enhances our self-esteem. As we get older and no longer work, we lose this reinforcement of our worth. I was able to give them a little bit of what they’d lost; they were able to feel pride again. If you want to make a positive difference and experience immense joy yourself, do what I did and talk to senior citizens and ask them for insight; I promise you that you’ll have a feeling inside that doesn’t come around often.
George Washington Carver said something very profound: “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong; because someday you will have been all of these.”