Yet, the questions are useful to ask. Indeed, there are prior questions that need to be asked. When do we become wise? Do we become wise when we reach the age of 21? Do we become wise with the birth of our first child? I would humbly suggest that the answer to these last two questions is: No. No, we do not become wise just because we attain a certain age, nor do we become wise just because a baby has been born to us.
Into this mix, let me throw another observation. There is much talk today of the ageing population, and especially, how the economy and society is going to support these elders.
Could there be a link between the two observations?
For centuries, in western civilisation at least, the ages at which we give birth to children has been the same as the ages that we raise children. In other words: those that give birth to children also raise them.
Yet, for many indigenous societies, this arrangement is not the norm. For many such societies, children are raised by the elders of the community, not by the birth parents, even thought the birth parents may be closely associated. There is a famous African saying, oft quoted:
“It takes a village to raise a child.”This concept is at odds with the present-day western view, whereby a child is raised primarily by its birth parents.
The effect of condensing the role of raising a child to that of just its birth parents is that the knowledge, values, ideas, and identities are shaped by those who themselves are often still discovering who they are, what they believe, and what their values are.
Yet, there is a whole sector of society who are ideally situated to raise children, and this sector is largely excluded from society, ignored, told they are no longer productive elements in the cultural economy. They are the elders.
Although it would be a mistake to claim that because someone has attained a elder age they are therefor wise; that they have lived for a lengthy period of time has usually endowed them with much life experience.
Perhaps western society needs to re-look at how children are raised. If it was the elders of society who had greater responsibility for raising children then the benefits of that would be spread amongst the whole of society. All would benefit. The children would benefit from being raised by those with a long life experience and who have gained insight and wisdom along the way. Birth parents would benefit from having greater time to devote to their economic roles as well as their own discovery of who they are. Elders would benefit by remaining productive and valued members of society, as well as having the joy of passing on the wisdom they have gained.
Western culture has looked at indigenous culture all around the world, and often labelled those cultures “backward,” or “primitive.” Yet, these cultures have a greater understanding of the full journey of life and the roles that each generation can play within that. In this respect, indigenous cultures are progressive, life-affirming, and respectful of all members of society.
Western society has a lot to learn from indigenous societies.