The Yoruba people have a saying, “The young cannot teach traditions to the old.” When I first began visiting other countries and cultures I was impressed with the great respect that younger generations showed to those who were the elders of their towns and villages. Over the past 30 years it has troubled me to see less and less respect shown to those who have lived and experienced life and have so much to offer in wisdom and understanding..
There are often good reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did things a certain way. Traditions can offer stability, legacy and comfort to a society. While we know that some traditions can lose their effectiveness and purpose over time, traditions like respect, honor, love, compassion and mercy, always have a positive impact on any society.
These principles of respect and honor for our elders is taught throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament there were severe penalties when a child lived in rebellion to his parents or elders (Deuteronomy 21:18). In the New Testament we are reminded of the wisdom of allowing the old to teach the traditions to the young. Timothy was a great example of a young man who benefited from the instruction of his mother and grandmother, “I am reminded of your sincere faith dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure now dwells in you as well.” (2 Tim. 1:5). These traditions of faith and obedience to God were learned by Timothy at the knee of his mother and grandmother.
We also see where the apostle Paul commanded the older women to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:5).
There are some lessons in life that are learned through the experience of living, but it is always better to learn from other’s mistakes than to repeat them in every generation? The great American writer, Mark Twain once stated, “When I was 14 years old I thought my father was the most ignorant man in the world, when I turned 21, I was amazed at how much the old man had learned in 7 years.” The sign of a truly wise man is not to venture out into the world and study under that harsh master we call experience, but to submit himself at the feet of his elders and learn the lessons of life before experiencing the consequences of bad decisions.
The Bible writers visited this topic many times:
“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God, I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:32)
“To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the simple, and knowledge and discretion to youth. Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understand obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.” (Proverbs 1:5, 6)
There was great sorrow and the nation of Israel fell into sin because, “the faces of the elders where not honored” (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
So to all the young men and women listening today remember, “The young cannot teach traditions to the old.” There is much you can learn from your elders – today is a great day to begin that process.