Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Human Ecology (Updated)

I've been reading Ronni Bennett's blog, Time Goes By which focuses on ageism in America. Then today I read Tamar's post at Tamarika, on how she misses small children in her life.

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 less fewer material goods. But they we have something of value in exchange. Now here is a little survey: how much of your time outside the office or the classroom did you spend last week talking with someone a generation older than you? I'll even cut you some slack and whittle it down to someone 15 years older or more?

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?


OldHorsetailSnake said...

"Wisdom Transfer Sessions" !!! I hope I can remember that. That's rich, indeed.

And thanks, too, for letting me in on the meaning of "savta". So, since you're not MY grandma, can I call you Lucy AND Dotty?

Jo said...

Oh yes! Yes. It's one of the many reasons I've been going to the UU church a lot, though it's not always easy to hook up cross-generationally, even so.

I hope to meet YOU someday.

peripateticpolarbear said...

I would love to live in a neighborhood where strangers can call you grandma and not be being smart....

Tamar said...

Dear savtadotty,
And I was inspired by you ... in return.


By the way, I couldn't agree more. There is just so much to learn from people older than me. I have always thought that. Perhaps because my father was 55 when I was born. He was gracious, kind and wise with me all my growing up years. I have a special place in my heart for elders.

Tan Lucy Pez said...

Wisdom. A word one rarely hears today.

Good post.

samirah said...

When I was little I thought my grandma was G-d. You know how in Shul they teach you that G-d sees all and knows all and created man and the world and everything? Well that was grandma as far as I was concerned. She just knew everything.

Fred said...

What a wonderful post. I read it, but will have to come back again tomorrow. I'm sure I'll pick up more.

naomi dagen bloom said...

this was wonderful to read, so mellow and thoughtful. for so many years i was the "older" person that younger people connected to. and now i'm older and really have more desire to be exchanging with people with concerns similar to mine--especially those who are comfortable with aging. ideal would be as much wisdom transfer in both directions as possible.

Savtadotty said...

hoss - you can call me Lucy if you insist, but my name is Dotty.

jo - Yes, and this can make churches helpful to atheists too. I think we may meet one day, although probably not in church.

ppb - I wish you did.

tamar - My parents were both in their 40's when I was born. I wonder if having older parents helps us to enjoy aging more?

lucy - maybe it's out of fashion and can only be found in "vintage" shops?

samirah - imagine yourself as a grandma! It puts things in perspective sometimes.

fred - thanks for your appreciation.

naomi - bi-directional wisdom transfer! Good idea! (And welcome to Cousin Lucy's Spoon)

Sky said...

Wonderful post. Exactly why I loved my grandfather most of all the adults as a child. He was 88 when he died...I was 16. (He was 20+ years older than my grandmother.) Gosh, he was so filled with information, and I found him totally fascinating.