I have been spending some time researching the science of listening, and was going to begin this blog from that angle. Having seen and read so many articles online, I reconsidered. This blog isn’t about the actual act of listening, but rather, the benefits of listening to those who are older and wiser than us.
Since my last blog, I’ve been interviewing various Dadimas (Hindi word for grandmothers), in preparation for my first book. Although it’s been intense doing back-to-back interviews and writing-up, I’ve absolutely loved what I’ve learnt from them. After all the interviews, I sat down and thought about what I had taken away from each unique experience. The life stories of each Dadima floated around my mind for days. I realised how much time I had spent listening, rather than talking, for a change. And I felt much wiser for it!
That day, I didn’t actually feel like talking a lot – not out of sadness, but because I was inspired and amazed by what I had heard, and wanted to absorb the narratives. It’s incredible what we can learn from listening to our grandparents, and others of their generation, who have experienced and really ‘lived’ life.
I’m not saying that our elders are always right, and that we have to take their advice. After all, they have made mistakes, too, in their past. However, life experiences don’t lie. Our grandparents have wisdom and the benefit of hindsight. Listening to their perspective just widens our own; one conversation might make you think twice before making a big decision that could change your life.
The Dadimas that I have spent time with, are from a generation of women who kept a stiff upper lip. Whatever life threw at them, they dealt with it. These Dadimas have powerful voices, and they were happy to share their stories with me – I was desperate to listen and hung onto every word spoken. One Dadima spoke to me about her life in India during the British Raj and her memorable meeting with Gandhi. With every story, I journeyed back in time. They said that they would only tell their story to someone who is a genuine listener. Otherwise, they saw their stories as a burden or irrelevant. So I believe, that you won’t hear about the special moments in their lives, unless you ask them to share and open up. I don’t know your relationship with your grandparents, or if you speak to an older generation through other means, like volunteering to help the elderly. If you’ve already asked and listened to your grandparents, you’ll appreciate the magic that I felt. If you haven’t, I believe that you’re missing out on an important part of your family history and culture.
It made my week when I received a letter from a British grandmother, who had heard about my research. She was so happy that I am writing a book which deals with knowledge and wisdom being passed down across generations, as she feared that this was not being done enough.
We all lead ‘busy’ lives – that word that often appears as an excuse. For that reason, it’s so easy to see talking to our grandparents as a chore, or just a ‘tick that box’ exercise. We might roll our eyes at the advice we have heard for the umpteenth time. But how can we criticise it if we don’t know where it came from, or the experience in which it was rooted? My Dadima would always tell me not to blow money on material things, but that when it came to food, never to scrimp, as having good health was the most important thing. She also told me that I should look after my skin, and then she would make me the home-made face mask that she grew up on in India- a bit of natural yoghurt mixed with a pinch of turmeric – it is great by the way! I laugh about it now, and even make impressions, but deep down, I know that it’s because of her struggles, that she learnt to become resourceful, and prioritise things that really mattered in her life – in her case, it was always family.
I went for a walk in one of my favourite parks this weekend. When I’m there, I often wonder – if the trees could speak, imagine what stories they could tell? Some of them have been around for hundreds of years, so will have seen and heard so much. I’m not comparing our grandparents, or the older generation, to trees. What I am saying, is they have years of experience on us – important life experiences -and no library of books, Google searches, or television, can beat the power of learning, gained from listening to their experiences. If you haven’t already done so, I urge you to take time out of your life, to listen to some of the powerful narratives of your grandparents. Be prepared to be amazed by what you hear. My journey so far has been a huge privilege, all thanks to these wonderful Dadimas – I look forward to sharing the fruits of these interviews in my future book.