The Wisdom that We Learn from our Elders

Artist, Yermo

Hello beautiful people, and welcome to your weekly dose of Celestial Goodness. As always, thank you for joining me in this space and on this journey. So, I had every intention of discussing the Throat Chakra this week. I love the Throat Chakra, and love encouraging others to speak their truth because there are major benefits to doing this, but then a few things came to mind. See this week’s video here:

One year of reflection…

First, I want you to check in with yourself…just breath and be present here right now. For a lot of people, this week meant reflecting on a year since most things got shut down for the coronavirus. Our lives have changed in ways that we really could not have fathomed. We have come face to face with ourselves, with grief, with death, and with the notion that life can change suddenly. Within all of that there has also been moments of love, gratitude, understanding, breakthrough, and joy. Whatever this past year has been for you, I am thankful that you are here—reading or watching, and feeling hopeful for a new day. I maintain that this too shall pass, and that after the darkness of a long night, that dawn will always come. I feel the dawn coming, each day, I feel more hopeful. I have learned a lot during this time, and it has really inspired me to truly live an intentional and purposeful life, and to make each moment worth it—doing the things that I love, with the people that I love. Whatever you have gone through, whether good or not so great—I send you lots of love.

The second thing is that I got totally caught up on a topic that came to mind after watching an interesting movie. The movie, “I Care A Lot,” is on Netflix.

And when I say “interesting,” please know that I am still trying to process what I watched—was the writing brilliant in that it highlights something that I feel we need to address as a society—that is how we treat the elderly? Or is it that the writing was not that great, and the whole movie was carried along by the performances of Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage? If you have seen this movie, please drop a comment in the comment box and let me know your thoughts.

Without spoiling the movie for you, the basic premise is that the main character, Marla Grayson is the head of Grayson’s Guardianships. She makes her living by convincing the legal system to grant her guardianship over elderly people who she pretends cannot take care of themselves. Note she does not work alone—she has connections with people in both the care home field, and the medical profession. It also seems to me that she has found a loop hole in the system as it pertains to elder care, and she exploits it to the fullest basically fueled by her desire to be really rich. Once she has the power of the courts on her side, she shows up to the home of her prey and has them placed in assisted living facilities or nursing homes where they lose contact with the outside world. Once they are essentially out of the way, she sells their home and assets, and then pays herself from the proceeds. It is all very nefarious in my book, and I watched some of the movie seething at the way I saw her taking advantage of the elderly. The crux of the movie comes when she gets wind of “Jennifer Peterson,” a seemingly perfect potential ward for her—Jennifer is very wealthy, and by all accounts has no family. Let’s just say that things got very interesting from that point. 

I think that most people watching the movie wonder if this is something that can even happen. Can someone just show up at your home and say that it was determined by the state that you are no longer capable of taking care of yourself so they have now assigned you a guardian? Can someone who is a complete stranger be assigned to make your decisions? What happens if they are supposed to have your best interests in mind but it seems like maybe they don’t? Unfortunately, many states had loopholes that made it possible for guardianship scams to happen. In 2017, the New Yorker wrote an article called, “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights.”

One point of note was that many states have actually worked to reform guardianships because there had been a rise in guardianship scams. 

What is guardianship anyway? I should clarify that as well!

According to Justia, “Guardianship is a legal process used to protect individuals who are unable to care for their own well-being due to infancy, incapacity, or disability. A court will appoint a legal guardian to care for an individual, known as a ward, who is in need of special protection. Legal guardians have the legal authority to make decisions for their wards and present their wards personal and financial interests.” This largely functions state by state. 

Sara Luterman wrote an article for the Nation in which she called for the abolition of guardianships. Most people have heard of guardianship because of pop culture, and recent issues with Britney Spears and her dad. Luterman said, “Guardianship is built on the patronizing assumption that people with certain disabilities are incapable of being full citizens and need a nondisabled person to act as their proxy in all things… According to AARP, about 1.3 million Americans are currently under guardianship. It is hard to say exactly how many because the record-keeping is poor and there are no national standards or federal oversight. As a system, guardianship relies on the assumption that guardians are benevolent and always want the best for their wards. And this is probably true for most guardians: They want to protect their elderly parents or disabled children from financial exploitation and worse. But unfortunately, no system that depends on the individual benevolence of someone with absolute power can be relied on. People under guardianship still have their own opinions and feelings, and they deserve the respect that everyone else is afforded.” There are also some who just simply call for the reform of guardianships around the country. If you would like more resources on Elder Law and on Guardianships, the American Bar Association has a page full of resources.

In the future, I will maybe do a post/video on getting our legal life in order—wills and directives are not just for the elderly. These are things we all should think about.

That being said, what all of this really made me think about was how we as a society treat the elderly. Many of us have heard the phrase, “Once a Man, twice a child.” There is something known as The Theory of Retrogenesis and it comes up often in the study of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It basically says, “The Retrogenesis theory refers to the process by which degenerative mechanisms in dementia reverse those of normal human development.” (Reisberg). In other words, the person regresses backwards as a child’s brain progresses forward. Cicero said, “For there is assuredly nothing dearer to a man than wisdom, and though age takes away all else, it undoubtedly brings us that.” With the understanding that as we grow older there may be a time when we are unable to take care of ourselves, many ancient cultures had an awareness of this, and had plans in place to take care of their elderly. It was not just that there was a certain level of honor and respect that came with aging, there was also a cultural aspect that was very important to the society as a whole. There was also a certain amount of reverence for the wisdom and the experience that comes along with age. An African proverb said, “Those who respect the elderly pave their own road towards success.” 

There are many lessons that we can learn from the elderly include those on forgiveness, integrity, gratitude, growth, relationships, and just life. 

Jared Diamond, the writer of Guns, Germs, and Steel, wrote The World Until Yesterday, in which he investigated traditional societies and what the modern world might learn from them.

He ask the question, “What can we learn about how to treat elderly people from traditional societies.” While there are many variables to consider, he noted that in modern society, many older people end up living separately from their family and friends. At the worst extreme, we get rid of the elderly by either: neglecting them and not feeding them, abandoning them when the group moves, encouraging suicide, or killing them. He mentioned that there were reasons for that including the environment (artic or desert extremes for example) and resources like food. But he mentioned cultures where there is a priority for feeding and caring for the elderly. Diamond points out the connection between society’s values and the usefulness of the elderly, and the contributions that they can make. Their contributions include childcare, crafting, leading, and sharing knowledge. He also pointed out that in ancient cultures, the wisdom of the elderly spelled the difference between survival and death.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I once listened to a story from Clarissa Pinkola Estes, gifted writer, folklorist, and story teller, where she tells the story of a young man who was tired of taking care of his father. He brought him up to a hill to abandon him, and returned to the village. When things started to get cold and dark, he did not know how to start a fire. No one in the village felt responsible for teaching him this, because it was the role of the elders closest to him. He eventually went back up to the mountain to retrieve his father, and his father ended up teaching him how to light the fire. He also learned more about his father’s life, and developed a true respect for him. One of Diamond’s comments about his research was, “The repositories of knowledge are the memories of old people. If you don’t have old people to remember what happened 50 years ago, you’ve lost a lot of experience for that society.” That includes everything from communal history to advice on surviving natural disasters.

There are also many studies about how different societies treat and respect their elderly—for example in many Asian and Mediterranean cultures, it was considered dishonorable not to take care of the elderly. It was also very common to find multigenerational families. Modern technology and things like globalization and modernization have led to a breakdown in those traditional structures. Diamond said there was also a “cult of youth,” and an emphasis on “work” as how people gain value. Once you are no longer working, in some cases you lose the value that you had in the eyes of society. He also mentioned that modern technology is putting some of the elderly at a risk of falling behind in terms of what modern literacy means. He said, to improve the lives of the elderly we should, “Understand their changing strengths and weaknesses as they age, and appreciate their deeper understanding of human relationships and their ability to think across wide-ranging disciplines, to strategize, and share what they’ve learned.” I think this is super important. 

Pearl Buck said, “Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way it cares for its helpless members.” Hubert Humphrey also said, “the moral test of the government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children, those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” How are we treating the elderly people in our lives? Are they feeling lonely, neglected? Are we treating them as disposable? And why? 

Personally, I view the people that are older than me as gold mines of wisdom, knowledge, and love.

Acklyn, one of my favorite wise people to chat with!
❤ Ktwinkle

An Ntomba proverb said, “A youth that does not cultivate friendship with the elderly is like a tree without roots.”

The last time I saw my great grandmother. She lived past 100.
Judy, Amy, and I ❤

I gain new perspectives and things to ponder from what I learn from those more senior people in my life. In some folktales, we find the archetype of the crone. “The Crone is a symbol of inherent wisdom that comes from experience. She has lived through love, sorrow, hope, and fear, coming out of it all a wise and confident spirit. Through these experiences she has learned the secrets of life and death and of the mysteries beyond this world.” When we connect with the elderly, they can pass this wisdom down to us.

I also had the benefit of living in a multigenerational family structure for years.

Me and grandma

When I returned to that structure after living alone for a few years, many people asked when I would leave. I would chuckle because I didn’t want to. I enjoyed having the perspectives of my grandmother, aunt, mother, and then my younger siblings below me. Additionally, I have friends of ages below and above me.

Three generations ❤

I value these relationships because they are so meaningful. I have had some beautiful conversations, some nuggets of wisdom, and the ability to bask in their company. I do believe society should make the elderly a priority. We can all start doing that on an individual level.

Tips for Cultivating Relationships with the Elderly:

·      Find common interests

·      Ask questions about their life and experiences

·      Tell them interesting things that are happening in your life

·      Spend time together—have conversations, go places (when possible)

·      Be an advocate (If you see something where someone may try to take advantage of someone)

·      Be patient 

· Be genuine

A big thank you to the people in my life who are considered by society as “elderly.” I am thankful for you, and I love you guys! As always, thank you for being here! May the stars shine brightly over your week, and may you cultivate a beautiful relationship with people of different ages than you!

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