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Bee peer maro
More concerned with facts than wisdom

By Ali A. Parsa
December 10, 2001
The Iranian

Our already short life is made even shorter if we add up the financial, emotional losses and the loss of time in tackling daily issues that we cannot resolve by ourselves. Alas, the gift of wisdom ensues much later in life, and the younger generations increasingly underestimate the value of seeking advice from the old instead of considering the older generation as source of wisdom. In short, the young mostly would rather reinvent the wheel than improving the wheels that already exist.

It seem as if the young and old live in two entirely different worlds. As always, the young is restless, with a natural tendency to be wicked, boisterous, impatient, and more disrespectful of the old than ever before. The old is often more knowledgeable, quieter, reserved, wise and patient. Most of us take this as reality and sign of time and accept it.

But, wait a minute. Hasn't the human race changed many realities throughout history? The answer is, yes, even our primitive ancestors have. As an example, they have tamed the nature in myriads of ways to suit their purposes rather than using any seemingly difficult situation as alibi for inaction.

In my realm of my wishful thinking I often fancy that we were created so that the experiences of our parents were condensed in a minute chip and transferred into our brains at birth, so that we would not have worry about widening generation gap or pay so much for education. Then I get frightened that, in thousand of years we would have lots of chips on our shoulders in form of over-sized head! That is probably why we were not created with chips. Then I ask, how is that the animals are programmed and operate on instinct that is the same as having chips containing program of operation in their brains.

I also wonder whether we are too arrogant to consider ourselves superior to animals since we destroy the nature and kill more of our kind than the beasts do. As we know animals kill other animals only for their fill, but uneducated and "civilized" human beings kill other beings not only for food but for entertainment and pleasure.

The reality here is that human being devoid of education, ethics and example is more dangerous to the world than the beast. It seems as if we humans are being tested on this earth for our ability to transfer our knowledge to our progenies and to others. Therefore, for the time being we have to accept the fact that the older generations and the learning institutions have to provide the missing links-chips for us.

In fact, all old cultures have had as a common denominator the same recipe for the young to benefit from the wisdom of the old. Since the young were too young the recipe was instilled in them like commandments or codes of ethics or noms of behavior. It was not for the young to ask why, it was for them to follow or die as the saying goes in the military. The young had to heed the codes by faith whether they agreed to it or not, or face the consequences.

Following this mandatory recipe started with the family unit and extended to the society at large. This wonderful custom had an immense effect on transfer of knowledge from past to the present especially before the advent of public schools. With the public schools in shambles, this recipe makes even more sense rather than less. What matters is that the older generations have served as a significant bridge between the past and present and a significant vehicle for quenching our thirst for knowledge and we must not consider the tradition outdated .

In fact, the greatest deficiency of modern learning institutions is that they are most concerned with facts and least with wisdom, values and ethics. What evidence better than the fact that the world is a more dangerous place during our Information Age than any other time in the history of humankind. Some may argue that people have always been killing each other. I counter that question by asking what is the algebraic sum or the net effect of educating the people at our contemporary time? Are we waiting for total annihilation before considering this vital question?

Ralph Waldo Emerson had predicted our present predicament when he said "the end of human race will be that it will die of civilization." Yes, we have to find the answer to our insanity in disproportionate growth of education and ethics. We may be rich in gadgets and technology, but we are certainly afflicted with extreme moral poverty.

We have failed in instilling effective education in our young that includes not only education, but ethics and example. That failure is from the part of families first and then the public schools that are spending more and educating less. And, that is why people are desperately attempting to resort to home schooling, charter schools, more private schools and family unit for transmission of knowledge. However, some of the same desperate people are not aware of the fact that it is wisdom and ethics they are missing, and those could only be found in older generations, in some genuine spiritual leaders and in old cultural traditions.

I remember many pieces of advice from my elders which I heeded totally during my formative years, laughed at them during my early adulthood as I was exposed to Western world and now appreciate them the most and I feel like passing them on to my children. Yes, it takes that long for wisdom to soak in.

As is customary in Persian culture, I was taught many single versed poems and idioms each of which constituted a piece of valuable advice. In our mostly oral culture most people depended on these as rule of conduct and norms of behavior. Even the illiterates quote these as gospel albeit not quite correctly.

These verses, in addition to being short, were pleasant, simple, easy to memorize with good punch lines. Alas those values have been and are being replaced by pop culture and glamorization of every wicked person that would be an outcast if ethics and values ruled-no offense to those decent people who, are essentially good, but are taking refuge to such culture to oppose hypocrisy of the older generations. Here are some examples:

-- In respecting the teacher and submission to authority: "Choobeh moaallem goleh, har key nakhoreh kholeh," which translates to: teacher's stick is golden, one who avoids it is foolish.

-- In emphasizing the value of the older generation we were reminded that "dood az kondeh paa misheh," meaning that there is more heat and smoke in a stump than in a young twig. I was told to always respect the ones who had gone through more shirts -- meaning older than I had.

-- The young was always expected to initiate the greeting to the old although it was recommended to greet first -- pish salaam -- regardless of the age of the the person I greeted. This was an indication of being humble.

-- On the importance of going through any inconvenience to benefit from the wisdom of the older generations we were taught something like this: From the older don't stay apart, even if you do not like the smell of their fart.

-- The Persian word for old (peer) is associated with a person who deserves respect. This is equivalent of mentor, role model etc. who deserve to be emulated. I was taught this poem: "bee peer maro to dar kharaabaat, har chand sekandareh zamaani," which translates to: do not do anything before you consult an older person (peer), even if you are Alexander the Great!

Obviously, such mutual respect between young and old was beneficial to both. The young learned what they would not otherwise and the old was elated, felt younger and was encouraged to help the young through life. This relationship had also was a therapeutical value for both parties in that there was little use four counselors.

The relaxed mood worked far better than pep pills, ritalin, uppers and downers with all their sky rocketing costs and side-effects. The family bonds reduced premature illnesses in the elderly and long nursing care as the family and relatives shared the burden of assisting them in their declining years, though the period of helplessness was reduced because of peace of mind and lengthening their useful life.

I recall my mother-in-law who was dying of cancer in Ohio whose children opted to care for her at home rather than putting her in a nursing home because they were a closely knit family and willing to do everything for each other. I recall my mother-in-law in her death bed squeezing my hand and saying "Ali, we will go to Iran again as soon as I get well." In spite of being terminal she said it so optimistically that I will never forget. This also is an indication that in rural mid America people still cling on to the universal code of conduct I talked about.

Learning my cultural vales gave me the habit of checking up on my family members, relatives and especially my parents. My father passed away while I was finishing my Masters Degree at Cal Poly and I found it prohibiting to take to afford the trip home for his funeral and get back just to return there again. The peace I felt for having respected him when he was alive was soothing.

After my father I made sure that my mother was well taken care of by my sisters and I made sure that there was sufficient funds for doing that by sending them money whether they needed it or not.

Now I watch with dismay, as gradually but surely the aging and the aged are considered a curse rather than blessing for the young who call the old people as dudes, oldies and other names. In more and more homes there is no respect even for parents-much less the grandparents and other old people. I have often watched that misbehaved children go unpunished both by parents and by schools. As more of these children become parents themselves, the problem is compounded and aggravated and who knows what the future holds.

The most dangerous and devastating attitude is an increasingly selfish attitude in young who think they are the first and last authority and consider it distasteful to consult their parents about their lives. The real reason for this is the insecurity that is the result of watered-down education devoid of ethics. I was taught to cozy up to my parents, grand parents or elders and never talk in their face even if they were wrong because of their memory loss.

More and more grown-ups turn their parents into nursing homes even if they have the time and money to take care of them because they have never established a bond with them. The most dangerous trend is that the young is gradually removed from the sphere of influence of parents and even the good parents hesitate to press for ethics and values out of the fear of having lawsuits brought against them by their own children.

Media could play a big role to fill the gap, but with back to back beneficial and corrupt programs they have their share of negative impact on the young. They seem to ignore the fact that given the choice, most people especially the unsupervised young will emulate corrupt programs rather than the good ones.

Disservice to the young is also evident in the teachings of extreme liberals and extreme conservatives who have developed the skills to dominate the silent majority that has, for good reasons relinquished their responsibilities. Ultra liberals have gone as far as interpreting freedom as liberation from learning and remaining ignorant if one so choose and ruin the infrastructure of our society just because that suits their ambition the most. That is the reason why public school students can get by with snap courses and snap majors in a watered-down education system.

Lastly, according to another ethical rule I have learned in my youth-we reap what we sow, it is not difficult for me to speculate that the present young generations, will, in their later years lead an even lonelier and more unfulfilled life than that of today's elderly such as mistreatment of the nursing homes and isolation and alienation from the family at a stage of life when they need caring and sharing and compassion the most. May we become more concerned about this major issue and help transform the otherwise intelligent and lovely youth who should be the greatest assets of any nation.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Ali A. Parsa

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