Laurens Rademakers

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What can we learn from "old" people in this forward-looking age?

TED is often futuristic, forward-looking, progressive and out-of-the-ordinary. But a huge archive of stories, experiences and perspectives is walking around us each single day: ordinary elderly people.

What's the most significant thing you have learned from a very old person? Instead of waging a debate about generations or about the obviousness that we can learn a lot from our granddads and grandmas, - please try to present an anecdote and then elaborate on it.

A potent lesson which I learned from my grandfather: a man shakes hands like a man, and straightens his back. I had indeed noticed that 95% of all hands I shake are damp, weak, uncertain hands, and that mankind's spine has weakened. When he shook our hand, it gave a feeling of certainty, benevolence and cameraderie. Nowadays I shake hands like a peasant, to the great surprise of many. People are subconsciously impressed and know that I have some self-confidence to show, without showing it off.

This anecdote tells me that we can even learn from the gestures and bodily postures of the elderly. Not only from their stories.

  • Jun 21 2011: While the older generations may have trouble to keep up with technological advancement, especially today with the rapid development, I believe they can offer something we of younger generations never may have: Perspective.

    Regardless if we're talking about psychosocial development, intellectual learning, transcending/contacting spiritual entities or technological advancement, it's built-in that we cannot understand more than we know. Not saying all elder people know more than the younger generations, but they've lived through life and most of the situations we're facing.

    It may be easy for us to think "We know better, we have all this new knowledge they didn't have". Life, I believe- in a more philosophical sense - comes down to repetition and patterns. Each paradigm shift we make - psychosocial/personal development, technological or what not - will allow us to see the previous stage with new eyes, giving us insights we never saw during the previous stage. I think it's impossible for anyone to understand anything, unless seeing that situation from a macroperspective of that situation's macroperspective.

    So will the older generations have anything to give, when we're accelerating learning and technological development? Most definitely yes.

    Some examples:
    - A father teaching his son to play ball
    - A mother talking her daughter through her first menstruation period
    - A grandmother/granddad offering consolation and advice on dealing with grief after a person has died

    Anecdote: Dealing with depressions and being a quite cynical youth, my physical education / sports teacher told me to open up my eyes, just a little bit more. This was the first step to allow myself to see a brighter world and learn to get better. It wasn't the perfect cure, but it was advice no textbook and no one in my own age could give.

    All clichés, aphorisms and insights are from more experienced people. These are the tings - the things about life and living - we can learn from our predecessors.
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    Jul 1 2011: We could learn what has worked in the past over what has not. As in to avoid repeating bad history, and to actually repeat good history.

    But we don't listen.
  • Jul 1 2011: Simplicity has many benefits.
    Mind your manners.
  • Jul 1 2011: My folks were married 63 years. When my mother said, "Until death do us part"--she meant it and fought through severe strains on the marriage. This taught me the value of tenacity. I learned from her the value of dear friends as opposed to "work friends" or "internet friends". You can't read on line what a good friend is---you must feel it.

    From my mother I learned dedication, compassion, wisdom and a thirst for knowledge---and most important---the role of tradition in our formative yeas.

    From my dad I learned curiousity about the world. "Why do things work?" He is a civil engineer and my mom on more than one occasion said that if she were lost on a deserted desert island of all the people in the world she would want my dad to be there.

    Fifty nine years ago my folks decided to live on a small farm as opposed to the rage of the day suburbia. My mom was so tight with a buck we were going to devote a cook book to her called, "Compost Cookery" because of her ability to salvage partially spoiled food. She was carrying reuseable shopping bags a decade before it took off. To her the environment was important but she got hooked on cigarettes as a teenager and never stopped. This taught me the dangers of addiction.

    The internet is the destroyer of wisdom. Excess communication drives good communication out of existence. Within just a few decades there will be no escape from the tyrannies of the computer age as the number of individuals who predate the computer age die.
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    Jun 24 2011: "Forward Looking" is often froth with danger unless we first learn the lessons of our past. It is the generations before us who have cleared the path for the future and all that it holds. Technology teaches us new ways to do old things but it is in the generations past where we must learn why we do these things. Our past (our mistakes) teaches us humility and keeps us grounded and mindful of our human frailty.
    My dad taught me the value of an honest days work and the personal satisfaction that it brought, it is a value that has been of immense value to me. He also imparted the value of service to me, service to family, friends and ultimately the community around me. I have learned that real success in any age (past or present, technological or not) is in the service to others and not in the pleasing of self.
    Technology itself is limited by it's ability to serve humanity.
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    Jun 23 2011: The art of listening and non-dramatizing. Once those are mastered it makes the learning process far more accesible.

    I guess the most significant I learnt from my grandparents is living in the now.
    My grandfather was a Royal Marine during World War II. On a two day leave he married my grandmother and was then sent off to Normandy. He survived D-Day, war ended and he came back home with a bullet in his shoulder but ready to retake his life and start a family. Their love survived the war, the post war and even death; my grandmother's eyes still well up when talking about my grandfather more than 17 years after his death. I have never seen two people be as in love as they were with one another. Two days after he had died my sister was getting married. My grandfather insisted the wedding went ahead eventhough we all knew he had little time left to live. After all that my grandmother had been through in the previous months, battling my grandfather's cancer and dealing with her grief, she still got on a plane, went through a 10 hour delay and only just made it to the wedding, with her biggest smile not once did she dramatise.

    I continously learn from my grandmother, she has lived two wars, the death of her beloved, the birth of her great-grandchildren... She is close to being 90 however she still lives her life to full; she is simply amazing and an example to follow by all, at least for all the women in my family.
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      Jun 24 2011: .
      Helena, very nice:

      :: Listening.
      :: Living in the now.
      :: Refraining from dramatizing.
      :: Putting things in perspective.

      Yes, these attitudes grow with age.

      Can they really be transmitted to younger people, though? Or do they simply "grow" with age?
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        Jun 24 2011: Hi Laurens,

        Both. Of course they can be transmitted to younger people in the same way older generations continue to learn from younger generations too. We are continuously growing no matter what age. One can teach certain values to younger generations and for sure these will develop with age and experience. The only difference maybe is the level of awareness, that, I think, does come with age.

        On the other hand, sometimes, as adults, we forget things like living in the now, we get too caught up in the future, our responsibilities, our worries and children tend to be a perfect reminder of what living in the now represents. They get up in the morning excited and happy while we are already too concerned counting the hours we splet to decide how tired to be on that particular day.
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    Jun 22 2011: Many things. Sadly, ageism is rife in our society and so sometimes we turn a death ear to those who have a lot to say about life.
  • Jun 29 2011: This is a great topic Laurens.

    I believe there is so much to be learned from those who have done this life before us. As Helena mentioned, the art of listening, and non-dramatizing is very subtle, but brings a humility that allows us to see life a little bit more objectively, and love a little deeper. My grandparents had a capacity to love and care that was just amazing. It could have been that their "social world" was smaller, and perhaps their knowledge of the world wasn't as great, but they knew each other's life very intimately.

    We have great tools that no other generation in history has ever had. We have the power to break down walls of ignorance and misunderstandings. We have already seen this start to take place. I truly hope we can take to heart what previous generations learned, and not allow history to repeat itself.

    Along these lines, I had an idea about a year back to create a site that would feature videos of elderly men and women from around the world. They would share stories about their life experiences, hardships, challenges, and victories. Each experience would fall into a category, allowing the site viewer to quickly find inspiration on a specific topic. I am currently gathering submissions, and would like to see what kind of response I can get. The site will eventually be: http://www.learnfromthem.com/
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    Jun 23 2011: Learning through experience does not come with anything else but time..... So defintely we must learn from "OLD".

    Found lot more young people with backward thinking in this so called forward looking age. I feel all times were forward looking compared to the past.

    Are not majority population still clinging to some very anicient books, could those stop our journey to forward looking future ?
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    Jun 23 2011: I feel priviliged to meet some elderly people in my life who i respectfully look up to as role models.They are patient and gentle... just nice to have them;)