Many people dislike the word elder. I never had a reaction to it because I never really thought of myself in those terms. But a recent spontaneous and heart-warming exchange made me realize I unintentionally assumed the role for at least one young person.

I was seated next to him, this man in his late 20s, whom I’ve known his entire life. He’s part of my extended family, and he spent considerable time at my home growing up.

As we settled in at a long table for a family celebration, he placed his napkin on his lap, then turned to me and said:

“You know, Fran, I was thinking the other night, as I spread my napkin while out on a dinner date, that my parents never made me do that growing up. It wasn’t important in our house. But spending time at your table I watched you and learned some very important etiquette. Thank you for that.”

I was so touched, I teared up a little. I never intentionally taught him anything, I was just doing what I do. He apparently was watching, and what he learned must have made an impression and served him well. That pleases me.

I’ve thought about that conversation many times since and have come to understand that being an elder is an honor. It offers the opportunity to impart knowledge, to encourage and offer help to those who are eager to learn. We can help in so many subtle but impactful ways – if we are present, patient, and willing.

After some serious introspection, I’ve decided there are a few key elements to being a good elder that I intend to follow from now on to ensure I am the best elder I can be.

Always Be Kind

I will share what I know in a considerate and thoughtful way; teaching without ever criticizing.

Show, Don’t Tell

I will be an example, always remembering that young people may be watching and learning by how I behave.

Offer Support When It Matters

Being young and inexperienced is challenging; mistakes happen. My gentle hand is strong enough to guide someone back onto the right path.

Listen to Understand

I will suspend judgement and do my best to see the situation from their perspective.

It’s Their Journey – Not Mine

There will be times when I can foresee the hardship heading their way and warning them is appropriate, but I will remember it’s their life to live as they choose.

I feel some obligation, in return for the fruitful and fulfilling life I’ve lived, to offer what I can to those who may benefit from my experiences.

Aging is inevitable – but aging with purpose makes it worthwhile. So, elder is a title I gratefully and mindfully accept. It’s all part of this new era in an ever evolving life.

When was the last time you felt you made a difference in a young person’s life? Did you count it as an accomplishment? What truths about being an elder can you share? Please use the comment box below.

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