The stories I call “wisdom” stories are the ones that come down to us from ancestors to tell us how to live and hopefully how to avoid the traps of arrogance and greed and ego. They sustain people in the worst times. They lighten the load that a group is carrying when they hear about the struggles with those who have come before. Elie Wiesel, who just died, is an excellent example of a wisdom speaker.
Scheherazade saved her life by telling stories. Uncle Remus gave morality lessons based on African folk tales that gave a culture to the slaves in bondage. Black Elk Speaks taught us all about the wisdom of the earth as seen by the people native to the north American continent. The Greeks, Joseph Campbell, that guy named Shakespeare and all poets are wisdom speakers.The movies that teach or expose corruption or raise questions for us may not be the blockbuster money makers, but they are important to our collective psyche.
Today, in the Denver Post, on the opinion page, the new Editorial Page editor, Chuck Plunkett, gives credit to a wise woman for teaching him to hold the powerful accountable and to stand with the less powerful. This woman was his Grandmother. Our personal wisdom stories are just as important as the “famous” ones. Probably more so, since they are given to a smaller group and remembered longer. If you belong to a family that has been together and talked about ancestors from three or four or five generations past, you know your personal family culture and hopefully how those real people dealt with a life that was more than likely difficult at best, and horrendous at worst.
In the last class, How to Become an Exceptional Elder, my brain kept pushing out story after story about clients from the years I taught law breakers, high school kids and a personal time line for feminism. All of these stories came when the elders were completing worksheets to help them develop resilience, find a new purpose and move from denial to integration with old age. My thinking is that some of these stories were wisdom based, others just examples (abet unusual) of mistakes we all make in living our life without thought or intention. What ever they were, and whatever people took away from the class, my being realized that there is wisdom in my heart and brain from leading an interesting life.
I also believe that most of us past 60 years old have a wealth of information to share and sneaking in those moments with younger people is a way to pass on the good that we know and the steps they could take to make a life more than just a life. If you pick up an excellent children’s book you will see what I mean.
Please find your wisdom and speak it softly.