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3 Practical ways to learn from our elders’ wisdom


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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 07/21/23

What are some practical ways that we can reach out to elderly people in our communities, hear their stories, and benefit from their wisdom?

Among many other important issues, respect for elderly people is a major theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate. 

He mentions it often, saying things like,  “Elderly people rich in wisdom and humor do so much good for the young! They save them from the temptation of a knowledge of the world that is dreary and devoid of the wisdom of life,” and “The elderly person journeys with the wisdom of lived experience.”

The elders in our midst have wisdom and understanding, not merely information. Their perspective is invaluable, as we need wisdom to build a truly human life.

What are some ways that we can reach out to elderly people in our communities, hear their stories, and benefit from their wisdom? Here are a few ideas.

1Reach out through formal programs to hear their stories

There are a number of formal programs designed to create opportunities for elderly people to share their experiences, especially challenges and struggles they have faced. 

For example, The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum offers a “Hear from a Survivor” program that connects Holocaust survivors with schools and civic groups. 

Many other historical organizations have similar programs. You might reach out to a local history museum or research things like “veteran history projects” and “oral history projects” in your area. 

These programs are a vital way to connect young people and elderly people, building bridges of understanding and connection.

2Build friendships through conversation

If you have an elderly neighbor or know elderly friends at church, why not invite them over for dinner? You’ll both enjoy these interesting conversations and growing friendship.

3Record their memories

I love learning stories about family history from my grandmother, so I got her a subscription to Storyworth for Christmas last year. Every week, she receives a question in her email asking about her life story and memories. Her responses are recorded in a beautiful keepsake book that I will treasure forever.

Every week, I eagerly look forward to reading my grandmother’s response to the latest Storyworth question. And the questions have sparked some really interesting conversations between us.

If you don’t want to do Storyworth, you might interview your elderly relatives yourself and video the conversation. Or you might write down your favorite memories to share with your own grandchildren.

Whether in person, over the phone, or in an email, conversations with our elderly friends and relatives are such a gift. I’m grateful for the chance to listen to and learn from their wisdom.

ElderlyPope Francis
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