Elder Wisdom

Two more items on age and wisdom came across the ether today:

A University of Michigan study found that older adults are more able to accept differing personal values, see others’ points of view, live with uncertainty and accept change over time. This “social wisdom” gave them a particular advantage in approaching situations of societal conflict.

This is no doubt what The Elders have in mind (www.theelders.org). Their mission statement: “The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.” Clearly, governments need to give this group a bigger stage and more influence in international relations!

Dr. Lynn Hasher of the University of Toronto, lauded the Michigan study as more evidence that we need to move beyond “the mostly loss-based findings reported in psychology.” She also mentioned that there are implications for the continuing role of elders in micro-societies, like the workplace.

Also, an NC State study showed that older adults are as capable of making intuitive choices as younger adults. When the complexity of information to be filtered was greatly increased however, there was a divergence within the older group: some retained the ability of younger adults to make complex decisions while others had more difficulty. Some of this was reflected in educational levels. The study holds valuable insights as to how best to frame the presentation of complex information (such as health care plan choices) to this diverse group of people.

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2 Responses to Elder Wisdom

  1. Kris Hintz says:

    Al-I am intrigued with the U of Michigan study results. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which stereotypes elders as “set in their ways” or rigid adherents of Depression-era or WWII generation beliefs.

    In my own interactions with young people in parenting and counseling roles, I have often encountered the counterintuitive truth that adolescents and young adults can be rigid. Perhaps it is the “disaster virgin” phenomenon—they have not experienced enough of life to understand the concept of resilience, to see patterns and consequences over multiple decades. Or they are still holding on to the narcissism and narrow idealism needed during the teenage years to form an initial adult identity separate from their parents and the previous generation.

    Somewhere in the intervening years between adolescence and elderly maturity, life happens, requiring that we continually revise our most cherished preconceived notions of the way life “should” be. Perhaps this is an underlying reason for the results of the U of Michigan study?

    • apeden10 says:

      Great perspective, Kris.
      Another great “myth-buster” has been Laura Carstensen from Stanford who has found, among other things, that older people tend to be happier more often than young adults, get over bad feelings more quickly, and view life with a richer emotional palette, such as better understanding nuances like poignancy (as you no doubt have felt with recent graduations…).

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