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A Library Burns Down

Excerpt from Daily Cures, Wisdom for Healthy Aging


The African proverb says, “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 essential conduits for wisdom across the ages. Thomas Jefferson amassed the most extensive collection of books in the U.S. during his lifetime. On multiple occasions, he lost his collection to fires. Every time, he would start collecting again. Jefferson became a library because reading allowed him to travel the world and learn from the minds of great thinkers. He sold his final 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. What would it 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 broader perspective of life. Books, like Elders, are critical to understanding the past to make a better future. The responsibility to pass this wisdom forward belongs to the Elders themselves. The simple act of sharing stories with young people is a channel of wisdom. The youth culture we live in may be intimidating to Elders, especially with the emphasis on technology, but we must not let that silence the voice of generational 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. Indeed 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, and be an agent of wisdom.

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