Wisdom can appear anytime, in the most surprising ways, so you have to be ready and looking for it.
Luckily, I have been. So, I recognized it right away. Someone gave voice to one of the greatest and most common dilemmas of getting older. He actually was addressing something else, but I heard him, in my distracted selective way, and suddenly realized that he was naming, in a short form, the first level of solution to the dilemma of passing along important awareness. One of the main motivators that elders seem to have in common, and are often stymied by, is how to pass on the hard-earned wisdom that has come to them through living? He said, “exemplifying.” I heard it, and failing to embody it, I want to amplify.
I became so happy during a meeting of elders, when I realized that I was amongst people who were self-possessed. They made it; they had become themselves. I was so delighted. Suddenly, I realized that a lifetime’s pursuit of self could actually come to fruition. In later life people could be who they always wanted to be. This thought thrilled me. Even today it seems like the best news about elderhood that is still widely unknown. People can become themselves! Real freedom is achievable, and it can happen, and more often does, amongst those who have more life experience. This seems like such a hopeful development.
My discoveries, and my happiness, went even further during that meeting. I soon came to realize that the most subversive thing, we as elders could do to change things, was be ourselves. I was overjoyed to think that the change I wanted to promote could happen if I merely was myself. Wow! What a thought! A lifetime of learning — about who I was and how to be — could now be turned toward change. I practically burst from the sense of how fitting, and elegant, this development is. I have been smiling and more hopeful since.
Well, to show how realization can often take time to unfold, I didn’t get until recently that this meant something important about how best to pass along knowledge. I have been fretting, like many older people, about how to give what I have gained back to my people, family, friends, and especially the young. Now, like never before I know. Exemplify! Live like your life depends upon it. Be true to self! People will notice. They may or may not have the courage to show up in their own lives, but they will notice, and think it possible, desirable even, and will probably be changed, just as I was, by the realization that one could be free.
Exemplifying, by showing up, by being different, by having your own take on things, by being true to yourself. This idea seems so sensible, simple and yet radical. I have long known Life didn’t care what I knew, it only cared about who I am, but I didn’t see how this is similarly true of my fellow human kind. Now, I do. For too long I have been stymied by the insult I have taken because my life experience was so hard to translate to others.
I taught, I counseled, I learned about communication techniques, I did everything I could think of to convince others I knew something, and all along, all I was demonstrating was my ignorance. I was proselytizing, not as blatantly as some missionaries, but never-the-less intent upon converting others to my reality.
It is no wonder I fail so much. People, because they are attached to their own realities (as they should be) have too much good sense than to be persuaded to my reality. If I have anything real and useful to convey then operating myself well is the best way to do so. Then people are free to notice, and they don’t feel any pressure (from me) to conform to anybody’s reality but their own. By focusing on being myself, I give my fellow man, adequate respect for their otherness (and the necessary freedom to be themselves).
The greatest gift I have to give anyone is best given when I don’t try to give it away. How about that for a paradox? No wonder I have not really been a good elder (maybe that’s why I consider myself a baby elder). I’ve tried a host of wrong ways to pass along hard-earned wisdom, I’m learning the best way to make any kind of life-experience available to others is through embodying it, not talking about it. I teach best when I am not teaching, but just trying to be myself.
How many years will it take for this simple lesson to sink in? This is one of those things that is easier said than done. I have to keep my eyes on myself, and stay within my own skin, and I have to trust that others will pick up just what is useful to them. It is hard for me to show up everywhere I am in my life. Maybe I can do it more, and better, if I realize just how much is at stake, and who I want to touch. Exemplifying asks more of me than I’m used too, but it asks for what is best for everyone.
It is strange and wonderful to come back around to realizing I am a gift that is best given to others by being true to myself. What a wonder!? So, it seems, are you! You are my example, if you keep your eyes on your ball. I am your example, if I keep my eyes on my ball. I know that the ‘ifs’ in those sentences are big words, but they are not impossible ones. Exemplify is a word for the big, it represents an amazing thing, the likelihood that we really can help each other by helping ourselves.