I have reached the age where many of my contemporaries and I speak of decline, death, legacy, and our responsibility as elders. In this post, I speak as an elder … as one who has gained some wisdom from the challenges life has thrown my way.
I am led to this because I have carried a heaviness in my heart after reading an interchange between two older women and a younger man on Facebook. Facebook is such an impersonal way of expressing oneself, rife with pitfalls of misunderstanding. It rarely leads to meaningful connection. The same might possibly be said of email messages and blog posts.
Despite the risk of being ignored, misunderstood, mocked, or castigated, I feel compelled as an elder to respond. Because I think contemplating rather than impulsively responding is wiser, I have been pondering what wisdom I have to offer for two weeks. After a weekend of being exposed to elders much wiser than I, the words began to emerge.
This younger man posted in a Facebook group pictures of the “Impeach Trump Now” rally held in downtown Dayton. I didn’t attend and neither did the two older women commenting, but these women took offense at the vulgarity on some of the posters. I agreed with their sentiments.
One of the women admitted to sharing those vulgar thoughts and images and she pointed out that going into the gutter with those who model that behavior is, in her view, “not a way to build a movement.” She was glad she wasn’t there and would not be attending or encouraging others to attend such future rallies.
I know this woman. She has had her share of hard knocks and continues to live with difficult circumstances as a result. She’s had plenty of experience in her life to learn wisdom. About a year ago or so, she made some major changes in her life. She has a heart for those who experience discrimination and found some significant ways to learn from them and lend support. Despite physical limitations, she exhausted herself helping tornado victims last summer. She has a prophetic voice and recently stretched herself to deliver a message much needed in our time. These are just some of the ways she exercises her wisdom. I admire her.
The young man’s “I’m sorry you feel this way” (emphasis mine) was quickly followed by advocacy for the demonstrators right to “freedom of speech.”
I was alarmed to see her question herself. “I may well be wrong,” she said.
The other woman asked, “Why use vulgarity?” It “… will do nothing to persuade anyone who doesn’t already agree with you. And will just offend anyone with religious values on either side.”
I also know this other woman. She spearheaded the effort to collect signatures on petitions to change the partisan gerrymandering practice in Ohio. Her tireless work paid off. Voters overwhelmingly (75-25%) approved the creation of a non-partisan commission and four-step process that encourages both parties to work together. I admire her.
The young man mocked her and returned to his “freedom of speech” argument. He then used the “f” word” to describe those who find the vulgarity displayed at the rally offensive.
Both women made it clear that the issue for them is not “freedom of speech.” This young man missed the deeper issues central to these women’s objections.
Do We Pay A Price For Rendering Elders Invisible?
My elder contemporaries and I bemoan our invisibility … younger people don’t seem interested in hearing the wisdom we have garnered in our years of trying to make sense of life. So, in some ways, this young man’s missing the wisdom these two women imparted is fairly typical.
I don’t think ignoring or denigrating the wisdom of elders bodes well for our culture. I think the reason we have so many challenges is that the voices of elders through the ages, especially indigenous elders, have not been heard and heeded.
Offering My Elder Wisdom
I get it that anger is a potent energy. When I feel powerless, I’m tempted to lash out. It gives me a short-lived, false sense of power. I don’t think I am alone. Exercising restraint in publically expressing the vulgar thoughts and angry images that arise within us is demonstrating wisdom. We need not doubt that.
The violence we experience in our culture, like that in the Oregon District, is often at the hands of those who are unable to show this restraint. Hurt people hurt people. We all carry within us the potential to hurt others … with words or worse. Examining our violent tendencies and dealing with them in a healthy way is a mark of maturity and a sign of wisdom.
Responding defensively with the rightness of our argument, like this young man defended his right to freedom of speech, only contributes to the polarization we are experiencing in our country … probably the very thing he hates in those he rails against. Listening for understanding and common ground … responding with respect fosters connection. It is vitally important that we recognize the desires we have in common and avoid contributing to division among each other. It is a major way we will move forward as a country.
Just as these two wise women were doing, I would encourage this young man and all of us to consider the big picture. I believe this young man means well but that isn’t enough. We all need to do our inner work – to keep our destructive urges in check so we aren’t guilty of making the problem worse.
Freedom comes with responsibility. I visited this young man’s Facebook page. It is obvious he is very concerned about and probably angry about the irresponsible behavior of politicians … especially our current President’s. I’m angry about that, too.
He obviously wants to be part of the solution. My experience tells me that we are wise when we behave conscientiously versus following careless footsteps. Just because we have freedom of speech, does not mean it is responsible and wise to say any ole thing that arises from an unexamined place within us.
Nothing Weak about Kindness
Because this young man posted on his Facebook page what President Obama said at Elijah Cummings funeral, I invite him to listen again to those wise words … words we need to hear because many of our leaders are loudly sending just the opposite message.
… being a strong man includes being kind … there is nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There is nothing weak about looking out for others. There is nothing weak about being honorable. You are not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect. ~Barack Obama eulogizing Elijah Cummings
I think this is what Michelle Obama meant when she said, “When they go low, we go high.”
Some wisdom for all of us to consider as we express our passions and engage in whatever way calls to us to help our country live up to its ideals.