Why There Are Lessons To Be Learned From Listening To Our Elders

by Brendan Marshall

One of the earliest lessons we are taught as children is to “respect our elders.” Younger generations like ours can gain infinite knowledge from the decades of experience under the belts of our elders.

I’d like to highlight one man in particular, who, for a brief period, taught me lessons that have helped take the sting off of life’s every day grind and sail smoothly into the next chapter.

His name is Wayne, and we were neighbors for a five-month stretch in late 2012. I unexpectedly moved out of the house across the street from his after discovering a sinkhole under the foundation, but that is a story for a different day. Wayne speaks softly while his messages strike deep.

As part of the “Lucky Few,” a group fixed between “the Greatest Generation” and “Baby Boomers,” the way Wayne lives his life is with the intent to make the people around him stronger.

Combine that with his Military background and you quickly realize that this is no normal human being. Wayne was also the protector of the neighborhood, since living in Baltimore can be dangerous at times. I was lucky enough to inspire him to share many of his useful lessons with me.

After exchanging backstories and small talk throughout the first few weeks, Wayne began asking about my direction in life. At the time, I was considering a career change, so the dialogue flowed freely. After each talk, which lasted anywhere from five minutes to over an hour, I began writing down his messages. I'd like to share them with all of you, and a short note about where I've applied them in my life.

On decision-making: how to approach changes of all size.

“You control everything that you do. Your environment does not determine how you will act if you don’t let it.”

On preparation: a constant process that builds one brick at a time, daily.

“You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready. Your conditioning is for life. Your body is created by a higher being and therefore should be treated like a temple.”

On patience… (This is my favorite.)

“A snake is slithering along, looking for something to eat. When he finds something, if he eats too quickly, he might choke.”

On relationships and fate: applies to romantic experiences and everything we cannot control.

“You can’t chase the wind. Life is imperfect, but we decide our fate based on how we react to those imperfections. You can’t let fear determine your direction, or else it will be one of meandering when you need to go forward. The same is true for relationships; if it doesn’t work out, you dwell for a day or two then…MOVE ON.”

On sharp focus and goal attainment: Don’t dwell.

“When we’re knocked off course, it is important to remember our direction. If we meander too long, it will keep us from obtaining our ultimate good. Keep fighting, flood the resources and be strong.”

Wayne is a legend -- plain and simple. I was extremely disappointed to leave his neighborhood so suddenly but happy that I was able to gain some knowledge during my time there. After all, everything does happen for a reason and our experience together was only meant to be short-lived.

The advice that I’ll leave with all of you: engage with your elders. Ask them questions because one of the best gifts they can give is sage wisdom. Not everyone will be as willing and able as Wayne, but they all have something to share.

Years from now, most of us 20-somethings will want to do the same in order to leave this place a little better, one person at a time. I thank you, Wayne, for taking the time to do that for me.

Photo courtesy American Pie