Besides piling up years, members of the older generation pick up valuable knowledge and life lessons along the way. That’s why one function of age is to pass on elder wisdom and advice to younger generations.
In some earlier societies, the elders of the tribe often sat around a campfire to discuss issues and make decisions. Younger members gathered around the periphery of the circle to listen and learn from the wise discourse of the elders. This doesn’t seem to work so well in today’s culture. I can’t remember the last time any young person sat around quietly to hear my nuggets of wisdom.
Today’s young people don’t always welcome too much advice. But it’s still my generation’s responsibility to convey, through word and example, what we’ve learned from a lifetime of experience. Even though they may not want to hear it, the young people in your life do listen and observe and, hopefully, absorb.
Of course, the challenge is deciding what’s worth passing on. If you’re curious about what advice previous older generations handed down to the youth of their day, I found some close-to-home examples.
In 1960, St. Louis Park High School hosted an important youth conference titled “Culture of American Youth: Decadence or Progress.” In preparation for the event, conference-planner Roland Larson wrote to an array of national figures, asking them to share their best advice to the teens of their time. Surprisingly (or maybe not), several responded. Here are excerpts from what these icons had to say almost 60 years ago:
• Eleanor Roosevelt – “I would urge them to prepare ... by developing their abilities to the maximum. Since there is a struggle of ideologies, I would hope that our young people would determine to work hard to see that the free world wins the struggle.”
• Wernher von Braun (ballistic missile expert) – “Apply yourself diligently to your studies.... The day is past when a scholastically ill-prepared student can expect to ‘get by.’”
• Marian Anderson (black American contralto) – “Get as much education as possible.... Rather than look on school as an obligation, one must consider it a privilege.... Many of our young people take this privilege not only lightly, but sometimes even with scorn and defiance.”
• Richard Nixon – “Our young people should take an active interest in government and should participate in politics as much as possible.”
• Ralph Bunche (United Nations undersecretary) – “I encourage them to be forward-looking – a little bold, and non-conformist in thought and action. I fear that we all tend to become prudent and undaring much too soon in life.”
• Dwight D. Eisenhower – “Be alert and informed.... Be tolerant and sensitive.... Be skilled and accomplished.... Be wise and reflective.... Be bold and courageous citizens.”
• William Douglas (justice, U.S. Supreme Court) – “Get to know as much as possible about the world, and pick out at least one, and preferably two, foreign languages in which to become (an) expert.”
• J. Edgar Hoover (director, FBI) – “Accept responsibility.”
Interesting. It’s striking how similar much of their advice was – as if all these national icons spoke with a single voice.
Even more interesting, the advice still fits. I would probably advise today’s younger generation much the same way. What advice do you want to pass on to your children, grandchildren and our youth in general?
St. Louis Park resident Bob Ramsey is a lifelong educator, freelance writer and advocate for vital aging. He can be contacted at 952-922-9558.