With the Chinese New Year now here it is that time of year when many of us, me included, take time to reflect upon life and where we are headed. As we do so, it is important to include in that reflection the wisdom of the elderly people in our lives and the centuries of wisdom to be found in China's rich culture, one of the oldest in the world.
Thank you Daddy! [By Zhai Haijun/China.org.cn]
While many have written about the "problem" of an ageing society, China's elderly citizens are also a great blessing; a precious national and natural resource. That resource is available to each of us -- if we would only take a moment to listen.
I was very fortunate to spend many formative years living in the same city as my German-American grandmother. Years later as a practicing lawyer in the same city, I would take every occasion to visit my grandmother and sit for hours talking with her on the front porch, or in the kitchen as she was baking, or sitting at the dining room table as she ironed.
Based upon these conversations, I wrote a brief account of her life so that it could be shared with our very large network of relatives. Through my grandmother's inspiring story, I not only learned much about her life and the challenging times of the Great Depression and other historical events, but also about my own mother and what she was like as a young girl.
Through such conversations I also came to a deeper understanding of my own identity. Through her life and experiences and wisdom gained through her 97 years I learned about how to cope with hardship, the secret to happiness, how to cope with loss, failure and grief, how to raise a family, the importance of making the most of time and keeping busy, the value of hard work and much more. The wisdom found in her story formed the foundation for the development of the skills and values that shaped my life and were every bit as important as my university degrees.
In the United States, Cornell gerontologist, Dr Karl A. Pillemer conducted a major study of over 1500 elderly people -- most in their 80s and 90s. He put together a common list of "life lessons" that were passed on by his elderly subjects who participated in the study. These lessons are revealed in his book, 30 Lessons for Living. This "true advice" from America's wisest citizens is invaluable reading. Not surprisingly, we are also coming to realize that most of the wisdom contained in this book is also supported by research.
China has millions of graduates who soon will be entering the world of work. Speaking of a lifetime of work, the U.S. elders focused on the need to be happy in one's work. After all, most of one's waking adult hours are spent at work. It is therefore important, as far as possible, to do what you love and love what you do. They stressed the importance of feeling that your work has purpose and the great value of having autonomy in your work and the opportunity to continually learn and grow. They stressed the importance of seizing opportunities when they arise. Yes, talent and hard work were emphasized, but they added that it was also important to be nice.
Surprisingly perhaps, working to earn a lot of money to buy things they want was not mentioned. What was mentioned was the need for balance and value of time versus money. Many placed a premium on time and chose or wish they had chosen to work part time or less overtime in order to have greater time for family, friends and the pursuit of other dreams.