I turn 75 next month, and this has me thinking about mortality. I'm in the last part of my life, so I've been reflecting, sifting through the detritus of experience, observation, and thought to winnow out lessons to pass on to my children and grandchildren.
The most influential elders in my life were my parents. Although they were in their 30s and 40s when I was a child, they seemed much older and wiser. They taught me lessons that have guided me and that I have tried to pass on to my children:
"Respect your elders." They weren't referring to themselves but to older people, who by virtue of having lived a life, deserved respect.
"You are what you do, not what you say." With today's barrage of information, spin, and propaganda from politicians and corporations, it's important to look at a record of action rather than be deceived or confused by words.
"If you want everyone to like you, you will not stand for anything." When I was in high school, I was elected president of the student body. I told my dad that I wanted everyone to like me. He told me that no matter what you stand up for, there will always be those who disagree with you.
"Whatever you do, whether it's washing dishes, scrubbing floors, or working at a job, throw yourself into it with all your energy."
I have learned that when I do a half-hearted job, I get a half-hearted experience.
My parents also taught me that I should save for tomorrow, live within my means, share and not be greedy, and that I should work hard to earn money to buy necessities in life but that I mustn't run after money as if having more than others would make me better or more important.
Elders remember a time when family and social activities were the central focus of life, not shopping and owning stuff. Elders remind us that life can be rich and fulfilling without all the toys.
I'm lucky to have arrived at a time in my life when I am freed from the encumbrances of making money, seeking fame and power, and showing off. We elders have no hidden agenda and can speak the truth.
As an elder, I hope parents teach their children, as I was taught, to respect elders, and listen and learn from them.