Friday, June 14, 2013

Out with the New, In with the Old (A post in honor of Father’s Day)

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I wonder if I’m the only one that found it difficult, until fairly recently, to truly respect and learn from my elders – in all different walks of life. Perhaps it’s being a first generation immigrant and having to play some adult roles for my parents at a younger age, since I was more fluently able to communicate to the outside world in English than they were, that caused me to be dismissive of what I could learn from them, and others, older than me.
Lately, however, I’ve been learning to listen more, learning to observe more, and learning to reflect on the examples, not just of my parents, but other elders in my life. I attribute this change to watching my toddler insist on verifying different facts for himself, rather than trusting me when I tell him there are really no more chocolate chip cookies, I really did eat them all; or when I tell him that if he rides his tricycle in the rain, he will get wet. My toddler wants to learn everything the hard way – through experience. And as Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC) said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First by reflection, which is the noblest; second, by imitation, which is the easiest, and third by experience, which is the bitterest.” In many ways, I have been living life a lot like my toddler, gaining wisdom, sometimes bitterly, through experience.

There’s a timeless story about the follies of not learning from your elders in the Bible. The biblical nation of Israel had its most glorious days under its kings David and Solomon. The famous King Solomon, who was known for his wisdom, died, and when his son Rehoboam succeeded him, the Israelites gathered before him with a request: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” (I Kings 12:4). Rehoboam took three days to consider the request, first asking the advice of his elders who had served his father Solomon, then asking the advice of his friends.

The elders advised, in wisdom now oft-repeated in leadership literature, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” (12:7).

His friends advised, “These people have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter.’ Now tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’” (12:10).

Rehoboam took his friends’ advice and returned to the Israelites with these words. The Israelites then rebelled against him and took another person as their king, and the Rehoboam’s tribe (Judah) is the only one that remained loyal to him. Rehoboam’s failure to heed the advice of his elders caused the once glorious Israel to descend into civil war. (You can read the full story in I Kings 12:1-25).

One way I am trying to prevent myself from Rehoboam’s folly is to start writing down the things I am learning from my elders – my parents, my older relatives, my older family friends, and older colleagues and supervisors at work. I am also not just listening for words of advice, but waiting to learn from the wisdom of their actions before passing my own judgment on the decisions they make.

How are you learning from your elders? Please share in the comments below.