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Sage Wisdom: Listening to Older Adults
By Tina Calabrese, LCSW-R

American Indians respected the elders in their tribe. It was their tradition to see the elders as wise and all knowing and because of that tradition they sought their advice and reassurance when there was conflict. Africans, Asians and Mexicans also respect their elders but in the United States older adults are invisible and sometimes neglected.

In Taiwan people greet older adults with their hands on their heart. In older Japanese towns they still hold parades for people who reach the age of eight eight. Older adults were the story tellers, the sages and the wise ones. Today in America according to the National Center for Elder Abuse between one and two million older adults are abused and only one in fourteen of those cases reach the attention of the authorities.

Why are older adults abused, neglected and not respected? When hiring people don’t we want experience? Isn’t experience the best teacher? One of the reasons may be unresolved issues from childhood. The “King Lear Syndrome” is a phenomenon that occurs when adults act out their rage and resentment toward a parent when they are older and weak. (As the King’s daughters did in King Lear) The heart break of this is that it does not have to be the actual parent it may just be an older adult the person is around or suppose to be helping.

Another reason may be that we live in a society where beauty and popularity means being young. Beauty is seen as one dimensional—skin deep. Older adults are a HUGE resource we neglect. They have wisdom from living through relationship break ups, wars, recessions, natural disasters, the rise and fall of new ideas and years of parenting. While they may be physically beautiful their beauty is also in how they see life and spirit.

Issues from childhood need to be resolved in order to find a comfortable emotional place with a parent. Most of the time when the deep pain is processed the power a parent once had is diminished and a sense of compassion may be found. Besides your own parent you may meet someone who is older. If you listen to them they may have a wealth of wisdom to share. Young people especially can benefit from the sage wisdom of older adults. When you do listen it will be stories they tell. These stories will have meaning and validity for today’s time and age.

I encourage you to SEE older adults. Respect them and talk to them. Keep an eye on their care and if you suspect abuse report it to adult protective services. Teach your children not by your words but by your actions. Develop a friendship with an older adult and listen to their suggestions in front of your child. Thank them for all they have done in their life because they most likely have helped people just by living as long as they have. Use discernment, not all are healthy and wise. But for the ones that are the survivors and the ones that are the lovers give them a parade and celebrate their words of wisdom.

Older adults certainly qualify for the job of life coach.  ■

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