Wisdom of elders vital as youth face uncertain future

Many lessons are learned on the journey of life.

In days gone by, sons learned from fathers and girls from mothers, and of course there was a certain amount of cross-pollination in those socialisation and learning processes.

By and large, the younger members of families and society learned from their elders.

One of the realities of the industrial revolutions – and will particularly be the case of the rapidly developing Fourth Industrial Revolution – is that the younger members of society tend to lose respect for the counsel and opinions of their elders.

Rapid and easy access to information via social media options and the internet has contributed to the youth throughout most of the world believing that they know better, can do more and have largely lost the need to learn from their elders.

Perhaps a much stronger sense of independence has developed.

But is this valid and can society afford this attrition of the wisdom and wealth of experience of the older generation?

While it makes sense and would need a compelling argument to challenge conventional wisdom regarding the future being in the hands of the youth, it would be at society’s peril to downplay or disregard the knowledge, skills and understanding of the “elders”.

Tough times weathered, wars fought, bereavements endured and difficult decisions taken, have all contributed to the leathery toughness, resilience and wisdom of the older generation.

An old adage holds that: “There is no substitute for experience.”

This view is supported by Stanislaw Jerzy Lec: “Youth is a gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” An interesting observation on this topic is to be found in a blog by a lady who honours her father, and refers to his many pearls of wisdom that helped to shape her life:

“The Old Dog for the Hard Road, the Puppy for the Path” was one of my Dad’s favourite expressions as I grew up.

“I had no idea what it meant but whenever he said it – it was with quiet resignation that he was to do the chore that was the most unpleasant, most challenging, and least rewarding.” – inmycorner blog

It seems that this expression finds its origins in an interesting collection of Irish proverbs that promote the need to value and respect elders in society through the ages.

The message is clear that perspectives change through maturity, and that much would be lost to world knowledge and understanding if neglect were to reduce the impact of the “Old Dog”:

“As the old cock crows, the young cock learns.”

“Praise the ripe field, not the green corn.”

“The old dog for the hard road and leave the pup on the path.”

“The schoolhouse bell sounds bitter in youth and sweet in old age.” “The older the fiddle the sweeter the tune.”

“Young people don’t know what old age is, and old people forget what youth was.”

A take that will have profound significance to members of AA regarding the distinction between those of longer standing (“elder statesmen”) and the “new kids on the block” (“bleeding deacons”) is interesting.

The critical distinction is that there is a fundamental difference between imposing opinions (deacons) and sharing experience (statesmen).

What seems to emerge from healthy contemplation of the learning process over the centuries, and the roles of the elders and the youth, is that there should be a dynamic balance.

There are times when the exuberance and adventurous spirit of the leaders of tomorrow should carry sway. But equally important is the invaluable contribution of the wisdom of experience of the “:streetwise elders” when the challenges become considerable.

The healthy functioning of society depends on a smooth passing of the baton from the elders to the developing leaders, facilitated by a process characterised by mutual respect.

When the Old Dog has taught the Puppy to graduate from the Path to the Hard Road, and respect has been the vehicle, the baton will have found itself in the capable hands of the next generation of leaders.

Does Benjamin Franklin’s view introduce a sobering thought to feed some contemplation?

“Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”


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