The Golden Girls
A little over a year ago I wrote a blog titled Friday With Mimi, which described my profound experience with my grandma at her new senior living center, Brookdale Living in Albany, Oregon. Last June was the first time I’d visited her at a residence other than the quaint, one bedroom apartment which had been her home for over thirty years. I quickly realized, however, that it didn’t really matter where she rested her head at night, because a physical dwelling will never define her. Her beautiful spirit and contagious smile will always transcend the confines of four walls.
This past week, my entire family traveled to Oregon and I had the opportunity to visit my grandma on several occasions, many of which included my wife and daughters. While each visit was meaningful, one in particular proved to be a tremendous learning experience for me. In fact, it served as the inspiration for this blog. Let’s just say I learned a thing or two from my KaleidoEye Golden Girls (see attached picture).
I’ve always been fascinated by the elderly and often jump at the chance to glean from their infinite wisdom. While their bodies may be quite frail and their non-verbal cues may at times convey a lack of interest, I’ve always maintained that we can learn a great deal from them if we’re willing to look beyond the surface and into their hearts. Although the Golden Girls may not realize it, they taught me two very valuable lessons that we can all benefit from.
Lesson #1 – You can teach an old dog new tricks.
In my experience, it’s much easier to teach personal development (emotional intelligence) to younger kids as the layers of the proverbial onion are often non-existent. As we age, it’s natural to mask our authentic selves (the core of the onion) with more and more layers in an effort to avoid the dreaded state of vulnerability. In addition, it’s much easier to adopt a fixed mindset and find comfort in the words, “That’s just the way that I am.” Therefore, one would think that elderly folks would possess the most layers and be entirely closed off to “new tricks.” The Golden Girls taught me otherwise.
As I sat at the lunch table and explained the nature of my work, it was very apparent that they were eager to learn more. So, I treated it much like I would a workshop setting and started with a series of mental fitness challenges (i.e. brain teasers). Although they didn’t know the answers, their eyes lit up as I explained the thought process of how to arrive at the answer. It donned on me that the process of learning is much more important than the answer itself.
Lesson #2 – It’s easier to be present in the absence of technology.
When was the last time you had a conversation with someone who didn’t have their cell phone within arm’s reach, let alone in the palm of their hand? While technology clearly has countless benefits in terms of communication, perhaps the greatest cost has been the lack of real, authentic conversation.
When I shared with the Golden Girls, I felt a deep sense of understanding as they clearly made an effort to listen with their eyes, ears, and hearts. Unlike the typical family dinner table, there were no distractions to divert their attention. No cell phones, no iPads, no televisions; just pure authentic listening. How do I know they were listening, you might ask? As we left the lunch table, each one of them made a conscious effort to let me know how much they enjoyed my sharing.
The next time you are in the presence of an elderly person, I invite you to ask the question, “What wisdom can I gain from this experience?” Don’t let the shape of their body or the look on their face stop you from engaging in conversation. Look into their hearts and you will find a fountain of wisdom.
P.S. If you’d like to have lunch with the Golden Girls, I can probably arrange it. 🙂