Friday, August 29, 2014

Listen to Your Elders

The advice to listen to your elders is always sage. People that are older than you have a lot of world experience you do not yet possess simply for having been in the world longer than you. I know as a youth you are wanting to rebel against the establishment and your parents especially because "older doesn't mean smarter!!!" But coming from someone who has been there and remembers it vividly trust me when I tell you that you are both right and woefully wrong about that. Age does not automatically equate to book smarts. You can be middle aged and dumb as a mud fence, but at the same time astoundingly more wise in other areas. Like street smarts, or life smarts.

An older person has the experience to tell them life gets better after high school. That you should not worry so much about fitting in or doing the popular thing. That being able to have one skill you're better at than most of your peers is better than being good at everything but fantastic at nothing. That you should, in fact, always wear sunscreen. That you should separate your colors and your whites -- and that the washer has settings other than Permanent Press. That you can live a long time off of pizza and soda, but you really shouldn't. That if your friends are good to you you should never set them aside, especially not for dates or 'more popular' friends. That if you have a friend that makes you feel inferior for being yourself, they're no friend at all and you'd be better off alone than with them. That if it seems too good to be true, you should approach it with a healthy amount of skepticism. That being on time is important, but if you truly must be late it's okay, don't freak out. That almost anything you dislike about yourself you are free to change, whenever you want but it'll probably take hard work. Amongst many other insights that are difficult to see in the throes of youth before you've actually been there/done that.

So when someone says you should listen to your elders, they don't mean you should obey your elders just for being older (which is what most young people hear when told that), but that you should genuinely listen to them when they are offering advice, because chances are even if they are giving you what seems like bad advice -- it's advice from actual experience, which is more than you have. So you should consider it, even if just briefly. I don't mean harmful advice from, say, a racist uncle or a homophobic cousin or anything like that, but actual advice from someone who means well.

That said, whenever I am given this advice: to listen to my elder's, I immediately recall a situation from when I was a teenager, trying to take this selfsame advice:

When I was about sixteen I was sitting in my friend's kitchen with his grandparents, waiting for him to get home. At some point his grandfather got up and left the table. His wife turns to me, this ancient woman I've always looked up to, and tells me she has the best advice I'll ever receive. I'm thinking to myself, "Whoa, she's about to reveal the secrets of the universe to me." Totally in awe of this magnificent older woman and you know what she said to me then?

"Yogurt has all sorts of uses." She then gestures with the swan-like grace of a matriarch and says, "If you're ever not right in your womanly areas, just dab some down there. When you're through you can eat the rest. It's great for the bones too."

I was just... I had no words. It was not at all the advice I was expecting from this wizened old woman. It was sound advice, but it was just so out of left field I had to struggle not to crack up right then and there at the table with her. I mean, here I thought she was going to bestow upon me the meaning of life, and instead she's just randomly like, "Here's how you cure a yeast infection."

It remains, to this day, one of my absolute favorite conversations.

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