"When an elder dies, it is as if a library has burned down," is an African proverb.
What a shame to lose all that collected knowledge, life experience and wisdom.
The most valuable gift this season, according to the Legacy Project, may be your family elders who have a lot to say and want to talk.
Are you ready to listen?
The project was developed to develop a source for that knowledge. It was created by author and gerontologist Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). He’s also a professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College (New York City).
His research has collected practical advice from “more than 1,500 older Americans who have lived through extraordinary experiences and historical events. They offer tips on surviving and thriving despite the challenges we all encounter.”
Pillemer has spent years listening to the life lessons of our oldest generations. They have endured the Depression, the Holocaust and World Wars, in addition to the experiences of daily life. The project launched earlier this year.
His new book, “30 Lessons for Living,” (Penguin Group USA, November 2011) is described as a roadmap “to the real treasures of life from these wisest Americans.”
The doctor says he had spent some 30 years as a gerontologist (a medical specialist who studies older people) before he realized that his work focused on older people as problems. He came to the realization that what we should be looking at is “what older people know that the rest of don’t.”
That lead to a six-year project asking older Americans to share their most important life lessons that they would like to pass on to the younger generations.
Pillemer says that the holiday season – when more multigeneration families gather than at any other time – provides opportunities to capture the wisdom of these generations.
He’s even developed a series of 10 questions to ask the experts in your life, which is described as "a tool to help unwrap a gift that must be opened."
In an NPR interview (see link below), Pillemer says:
In fact, almost unanimously America's elders' advice on work is to find work you love and don't worry about the compensation.
If you have to get up in the morning to a job you dread, they say get out, that really life is too short to spend time doing something that doesn't feel purposeful and meaningful.
What struck him was that this group of people - who had experienced loss, history, and ill health – were often happier than younger people. He wanted to understand that and pass it on.
He claims that what all the subjects had in common was “the resilience, is the ability to overcome these kinds of negatives and turn them into positive growth experiences."
During the upcoming holidays, make an effort to talk to your older relatives. Learn from them. Don’t forget to record the information and the experience. Share the audio or video recording with other family members.
Have you asked your older relatives about their lives? What have you learned from them? Tell us about them via comments below, on Twitter and on our Facebook page.
Search for your ancestors: