Imparting Wisdom: Cyber Grandparents Dish Out Sage Advice
April 9, 2015 | Home and Family
If you want to learn how to cook a lobster, knit a winter hat or fix a stopped-up sink, you can go to YouTube and find a video. But what if you need advice on love and relationships, navigating a conflict at school, or getting ahead at the office?
For a growing number of teenagers and young adults, the answer to these and other difficult questions is coming from an unlikely source: a website that anonymously links them with a group of advice givers old enough to be their grandparents.
Reaching Across the Generational Divide
The Elder Wisdom Circle was started in 2001 by Doug Meckelson, an executive from San Francisco who wanted to create a lasting tribute to his grandmother, with whom he shared a close relationship. The concept he came up with is deceptively simple, yet powerful in its reach.
“The Elder Wisdom Circle uses the Internet to foster intergenerational communication. Young advice seekers submit their confidential questions to our website; then one of the ‘cyber grandparents’ from our team of 500+ elders responds in writing with empathetic, judgment-free advice—the kind of wise words and encouragement my grandmother offered me,” explained Meckelson.
In a little more than a decade, the Elder Wisdom Circle has become one of the largest providers of personal advice, answering thousands of queries each month. In the process, they’ve changed the lives of countless young people facing difficult life challenges; they’ve also given their growing ranks of elder volunteers a new avenue for sharing the wisdom that can come only from a lifetime of experience.
A recent study confirms what Meckelson recognized with his own grandmother: that having a real connection to others is vital to brain health, especially as we age. “Our society devalues our older citizens in many ways, leaving them feeling ignored, marginalized and invisible. As a result, their wisdom often goes untapped. The Elder Wisdom Circle knocks down many of the barriers that keep older people silent by building a bridge of communication between them and young people in need of advice.”
Dishing on Everything from Divorce to Dog Training
Members of the Circle range in age from 60 to 105. These carefully vetted and well-trained volunteers come from all walks of life and educational backgrounds, yet each shares a deep desire to ease the way for today’s younger generations. Using a pen name, they field questions on every topic imaginable; however, elders follow strict guidelines that prohibit them from veering into the territory of legal, financial and medical advice.
“Alexandra,” an elder and member of the Circle’s leadership team, believes that providing an impartial sounding board for life lessons can be invaluable, especially for young people who are struggling with significant life challenges. “Young people reach out because they know we’re a safe zone for problem solving. Our advice comes without judgment or strings attached.”
Making sure her advice is relevant and well informed keeps Sandra on her toes; it has also provided her a sense of real satisfaction and growth. “I often look for resources to help me understand the cultural, religious or generational differences at the heart of an advice seeker’s question. As someone who believes in the value of lifelong learning, this research has opened my horizons and kept me in touch with the changes in our society and in our world. The ability to apply what I know in the service of others and to be useful and valued is an incredible gift.”
Bringing the Heart Back to Advice
While the Elder Wisdom Circle was created to reach teens and 20-somethings, advice seekers are often in their 30s and older, says “Tree Frog,” one of the Circle’s five founding elders. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 50; if you need advice, we’re here to help. Our volunteers have a tremendous amount of wisdom to offer by virtue of their years on this earth. They let that wisdom inform each and every letter they write, responding as a grandparent would, with empathy and kindness. The best reward is when someone writes back to say that our encouragement made a difference in their lives.”
One of the best ways to experience the Circle’s power to connect is through its website, elderwisdomcircle.org. There you can see the heart and soul of advice given, read heart-felt thank you letters (sample correspondence is posted with permission from the advice seekers) and, if interested, learn how you can join the Circle in sharing the kind of wise advice that can change a life.