These got me to thinking about the waste that consumer societies can create, and how the ecology awareness has risen: the Green movement, recycling, reusing, simplifying life, etc. But having worked all my adult life in the knowledge industry, I have an interest in something that ecology movements seem to ignore: consumer societies waste knowledge more than the third world does. I'm not talking about knowledge that became obsolete, like how to drive a horse-and-buggy, or even modern knowledge like how to use html, or what's your Congressman's name, or who won last year's SuperBowl or knowledge tools like reading, writing, 'rithmetic, and googling. I'm talking about serious knowledge that could more properly be called wisdom. How do consumer societies create, distribute, and conserve wisdom?
Well, where does wisdom come from? Experience. And who has the most experience? Old people. Not that all old people are wise, but wisdom is concentrated in the elderly. So if wisdom is valuable, then old people pretty much control a social resource. True they have more medical needs than young, and they may produce
My life has been made incredibly richer because I got to be with old relatives often. It was easy: they lived in the same city. Then my mother came to spend the last years of her life in my house. Which turned out to be 21 months, but we didn't know that at the time. In Israel, I've befriended a woman 18 years my senior who lives nearby, so I can visit her regularly and hear tales of her youth and get her take on current events. I consider these "win-win" visits, not obligations, because of her sensible approach to life, honed over 60 years' living in the same apartment! I know that any visit could be the last. With greater probability than visiting a younger person.
It's so much easier for multi-generational families to be together often in Israel, because the country is small enough no matter where you live in it. And people don't move as often as American do, so roots can grow deeper. The "generation gap" simply does not exist, except in a clothing shop. Some young people party late into the night on weekends, but TV commercial scenarios, a pretty accurate reflection of social conventions, often include infants, small children, and elderly people interacting with the beautiful youth. These indirect messages make me feel less marginalized and more valued here than I do on my visits to the USA (not talking about my immediate family, but the general public I may encounter along the way).
About six years ago, I stopped at a Tel Aviv gas station to fill up the tank. The attendant smiled at me and asked, "What'll it be, savta?" [note for my new readers: that's "grandma" in Hebrew.] I realized he was being genuinely friendly, not at all insulting or mocking. I was proud too, 'cause elswhere and Renaissance Woman were about to make me a real savta. I bet he got to see his own savta often, for Wisdom Transfer Sessions, although they may have called them "meals."
I seem to have reverted to an admiration of the Oral Tradition in this post. I suppose there is wisdom to be found in (some) books too, but then there's no feedback. Could this be why the Self-Help and How-To genres have become so popular? Learning how to live has been reduced to something like the difference between learning to cook from a book or from a chef. Why not both?