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A Library Burns Down


I’m moved by the African proverb, “When an elder dies, it’s like a library has burned down.” Many indigenous communities couldn’t conceive of their cultural survival without Elders. In our digital world, libraries—and Elders—aren’t quite as popular as they used to be. But both are important conduits for wisdom across the ages. Thomas Jefferson amassed the largest collection of books in the U.S. during his lifetime but suffered the loss of his books more than once because of fires. Each time he would start collecting again. He 'became' a library because reading allowed him to ‘travel the world’ and learn from the minds of great thinkers without leaving home. He actually sold his collection to the Library of Congress when it was burned during the War of 1812. Passing knowledge and wisdom from generation to generation is critical for healthy civilizations. Think for a minute what it would be like today if we valued the wisdom of the Elders as much as we do the Library of Congress.

When we ignore the pool of wisdom that is held by the older generation, we cheat ourselves of a larger perspective of life. Books, like the wisdom of Elders, are critical to know and understand the past in order to make a better future. Part of the responsibility to pass this wisdom forward belongs to the Elders themselves. The youth culture we live in may be intimidating to Elders, especially with the emphasis on technology, but the simple act of sharing stories about the past with young people is a channel of wisdom. I can’t tell you how many times I regret not asking my mother more questions about her life, especially now that I’m older. We may be younger than our Elders, but we are NOT always wiser. Truly if you keep your wisdom to yourself, it will die with you and the library of your life is lost. I encourage my contemporaries and those that are older to share your stories, write them down, record them and be an agent of wisdom. Here’s one last African proverb, “If you refuse the elder’s advice you will walk the whole day.” Chew on that! Join the conversation on Facebook at Just Now Old Enough.


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