"I don't hurry. And I don't worry," says Ralph Miller, 89, of Springfield, Mo., "because worry doesn't get you anywhere; it's the most nonproductive thing on Earth. And hurry -- that will get you hurt. I've never bent a fender or cut my finger or something like that, where I didn't stop and say, 'Why or how did this happen?' And I could always look back and think, 'I was in a hurry. I took a shortcut,' and, as a result, look what happened."
That's what Ralph conveyed to me when I asked him for a kernel of wisdom, something he would express to a roomful of young people if he had a chance to pass along one particular important lesson he has learned. What Ralph expressed that day is just one tiny sample of what I have soaked up while traveling across the country the past 15 years, interviewing hundreds of older people. These interviews are part of the Eldercation project -- designed to tap into what I like to refer to as "our greatest undiscovered natural resource" -- our senior citizens.
Historically, our culture has placed a premium on attributes like speed, youth and beauty, and such emphasis has subsequently clashed head-on with our images of senior citizens. All too often, we tend to pull the shades down when we see older people -- gently nudge them to the side. And yet, as baby boomers gray in the coming years and the generational landscape shifts dramatically, the time is right for an important conceptual transformation.
Older individuals have talents, world views, wisdom -- tools we can utilize to better approach how we live each day. In this way, it is in our best interests to spend time with seniors on a more consistent basis and in a more meaningful way. When we take time to visit with a senior, it provides us with an opportunity to take a vacation from ourselves.
"Conversations take the form of mini motion pictures or documentaries, all of them narrated firsthand by individuals who have amassed a wealth of knowledge enriched by one precious ingredient -- an ingredient not yet available in the same quantity to younger people: experience. Lots of experience."
-Excerpt from gOLD -- The Extraordinary Side of Aging Revealed Through Inspiring Conversations.)
Two years after my interview with Ralph, I was in a rush to nowhere one morning, lugging around eight plastic Target bags and, needing to unlock my front door, lowered my head to grab a few of the bags with my mouth. Unfortunately, I forgot that my car keys were tucked away in my hand under the plastic. As I then searched the floor for fragments of my front teeth, I pictured Ralph's face and remembered his words of wisdom. I smiled; chipped teeth and all. Now? Whenever I find myself dashing around like a madman, I catch myself and I down-shift. Eldercation in action.
Imagine having access to such lessons- - hundreds of them -- on a full-time basis. The good news: It's quite doable. Due to my Eldercation adventures, my personal hard drive (the one perched on top of my shoulders) now has access to hundreds of files bursting with the combined wisdom equivalent of 1,600 ministers, rabbis, professors and coaches.
How does one amass this information? There are no shortcuts. To attain this knowledge, one must engage in something that, unfortunately, seems to be more and more elusive in these fast and sleek times: a conversation. Not a text. Not a Facebook message. Not an on-the-run, cell-phone chat, but an actual, old-fashioned, one-on-one, face-to-face, eye-to-eye conversation. There is something almost magical about these personal interactions that their high-tech counterparts simply cannot duplicate.
So, the next time you see an older person, here is a suggestion: Resist the urge to pull down the shades on that individual. Stop your hurrying and take a moment to engage in a conversation with him or her. You will not regret the experience. Remember. There's gOLD in them thar hills!