If we can improve the standing of older adults in society, and nurture what they can bring through intergenerational connections, then we can achieve a better community with a better quality of life for all ages.
Historically, young and old connected naturally. Older people taught the young how to be and how to become. Close daily contact between the young and old was a matter of survival. Being with, watching after, and assisting in the care of young children, while demanding in many ways, does not require the full vigor of youth. The physical limitations that can come with getting older actually cement the relationship between old and young. An elder capable of working the land or building a house or strenuous cleaning would have less inclination to spend hours doting on grandchildren, telling them stories, and instructing them in the ways of their people. The physiological changes that accompany old age, which contemporary society looks upon with great disdain, can actually be useful preconditions for valuable intergenerational connections.
There is a back-and-forth reciprocity between all generations. Adults provide support to elders, most often to address health or physical limitations. Elders, in turn, assist adults through experience, emotional support, and participating in the care of children. Elders can help socialize children, teach them empathy and character, and give them an unconditional form of love they can’t find elsewhere. Children, in turn, can be an endless source of joy for elders, share affection and play, and provide assistance with many simple tasks. Children can participate in the work of adults, and provide enjoyment and love. Adults, in turn, provide food, shelter, clothing, and nurturance to children. And so a strong, healthy, intergenerational web of community goes.
Many older adults today are better educated, healthier, and more able than elders of past generations. They can clearly be a tremendous resource. But what about the oldest, frailest of the old? They can be our greatest teachers. They can certainly instruct us with words and stories of times past, and share a lifetime of accumulated wisdom. But what they truly help us learn about is the world and ourselves as they teach us with their very selves, their being. Elders can also teach us about the end of life, which informs the whole of our lives.