I grew from child to adult with little practical guidance from the people around me. As I think back, there was only one person – my maternal grandmother – who seemed to have survival-basics on lock. Strength. Persistence. Courage. Commitment. She’s been gone for quite a while now, but I remember the set of codes she lived by. Maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic, but it seems to me that her brand of pre-Internet wisdom is melting away. Just like the polar ice caps. Those great ice walls fall, but we feel distant from them. Are we also feeling, and growing ever-more distant from wisdom as we flood our lives with information?
It’s such a part of my process now, that the marketing meme – “There’s an app for that!” — no longer annoys me. My questions, and issues, personal or professional, can be resolved in minutes. The problem is that, more and more these days, I’m not craving information and knowledge, so much as wisdom. The kind that pre-dates the Internet.
I’m not exactly missing the corny adages my granny used to offer, wagging her finger in my newly married face. “Never go to sleep angry.” [ The reality of that: back in my gran’s day, women were hardwired to believe that it was a wifely duty to keep the peace.] Still, I often recall her wise words now, in a larger context. Releasing my anger and disappointment (not holding a grudge). More importantly, not infecting people around me with my own negative emotions. Living-out the hard-won wisdom that was shared with me. Wanting that wisdom to live on, through people I care deeply about.
Many excellent writers and researchers have offered their thoughts about generational wisdom. We know it’s disappearing. We’re pretty sure that’s not a good thing. Case in point, psychologists believe that the oral histories shared by World War II veterans have impacted our very DNA. Before we commit to fighting and killing, we ask important questions. But as these men and women leave the planet, their stories left to gather dust in history books, direct generational wisdom about the horrors of war die with them. Our Disappearing World War II Veterans: Who Tells Their Stories? | HuffPost War veterans aren’t the only ones (of course) with valuable oral history and wisdom. Indigenous people are feeling their cultures and traditions threatened by too much ‘information’, not enough ‘wisdom’.
But I really can’t bash the Internet. My own addiction to fast and easy info access is official. Sure, I’m online for answers (as well as products). But I also hang out there when I have much better things to do with my time. And even in my sixties, when I’m forced into slo-mo to wait for someone or something, I feel resistance. Too similar to the full-body eyeroll I used to give gran during her cautionary downloads. I see the same glazed look in my own son’s eyes now, when I share what, to me, feels like wisdom.
I lost my last family elder last week. He was 93 years old. I now find myself thinking even more deeply about wisdom, pre-Internet. Yes, this is partly because I’m growing older (and a little wiser) myself. But it’s mostly because I fully realize: I no longer have access to someone who protected the flame of my generational wisdom.
Time feels precious. And so does wisdom. Where can it be found, except in the stories of people who have lived and learned before us? No offense to ‘academics’ (especially since I’ve been called one!), but experience really is the best teacher. I’ve learned that a well-lived life is mostly about mistakes and lessons learned. So, it’s not that any wise messages from my elders necessarily made a major difference on my path. But the love, care and concern that comes with generational wisdom is something I will miss. It’s also something I’m actively trying to carry forward. Changing our Emotional DNA
Ever since my son left home for college and beyond, I’ve used two simple words to convey to him what I know, what I’ve learned, and how I feel. Just in case. In case my life gets interrupted, and my child no longer has me to turn to. Those words are my “code” for living bravely and wisely. They’d make no sense to anyone else, besides the two of us. Each time we see each other, and before we part, he hears those words.
In my Perfect World, anyone seeking relationships (not Influence) would feel “ok” about sharing the personal wisdom they’ve earned. Whether or not they are ‘family’; in this life, or in any other lifetime. That might mean admitting to “too much screen time”. It definitely means taking time to have a real conversation. And, it means being truly receptive to whatever’s shared. Do we still have the capacity and the need for that? I think so. Are we up for it? Time will tell.