In many countries and cultures around the world, the elderly are revered, are respected highly, and are often sought out frequently for their wisdom and sage advice. Unfortunately, in our present society we have yet to learn to fully tap into the rich diversity and amazing insights that our seniors have to offer us. Here are some ways you can enrich your own life, and learn to connect with the senior citizens in your life or community:
1. Mind the Gap. Start out by acknowledging where you come up short in being able to understand what it’s like to be an elderly person. Take a look at (even make a list of!) the assumptions you have about a senior citizen that you know. Then ask yourself which of the assumptions you’ve made, if any, are true. Getting to the truth can help you to get on a more even ground with the person to whom you’re trying to connect.
2. Open Sesame. Who are the seniors in your life, and in your community? Open your eyes to who they are, and what makes them distinct from you. They may be retired but still work in their field, or they may do volunteer work or engage frequently in hobbies. How are they enjoying and appreciating life now? What are they doing or not doing that you could see as a possibility for yourself when you retire one day?
3. Give it Up. The reality of being a senior is that sometimes it hurts, physically. Or your energy just doesn’t last as long. Because we all age differently, consider that the senior in front of you might need your seat on a bus, but doesn’t want to ask. And at the same time, don’t expect that they want it either – not every older person needs your help. But some do, so be prepared to help out when they need it.
4. Share the Wealth. One of the major ways we fail to tap into the vast resources of our senior community is by neglecting to learn from their stories. Having lived so many years means that you have that many more good tales to tell, so the next time you engage a senior in conversation, be sure to ask lots of questions and get them talking. You’ll be surprised not only at how well you can get to know someone older than you, but also at what fantastic things they have to teach you through their stories.
5. Lead On. Be open to the fact that the senior you’re connecting with might not know much about modern technology, but might want to learn a thing or two. Certainly learning how to email, connect on Facebook and surf the internet can be valuable tools for anyone, so take the time to show them how to do these things. Seniors can certainly learn how to use what many of us take for granted, so find out what might be needed the most and get started on that.
6. Live it Up. Consider taking the next step and become a part of or start a community group that works with seniors. There are so many connections to be made – it might just take a couple of phone calls to find out what works best for you. And don’t be afraid to take the initiative and start something on your own if you see an area of connecting that is missing in your community. Your elders will thank you for it!
By Richard Lobbenberg, BSc BHSc DAc