When I was young I went to camp in southern Indiana. If you have only driven across the middle of the state on I-70 then you likely think the state is flat-on-flat cornfields. But the southern third is a hilly slide toward the Ohio River.
Steep wooded ridges cascade into deep gullies, many of which fill with torrents of water in the spring only to trickle or dry up altogether in hot summer. A canopy of hickory, maple, sassafras, sumac, giant beech, and sycamore blanket the hills of that region. The camp I attended was cradled in such terrain and included three spread out campsites: tents, tee-pees, and covered wagons. Two-thirds of our meals were prepared at the campsites where we learned to cook, orienteer, recognize flora and fauna, and love the environment. Making thin, narrow mudslides down a steep embankment was a favorite activity before the afternoon swim, and also scavenger hunts employing compass settings spread out over a mile. You get the picture.
Each summer I explicitly learned all those skills while implicitly absorbing leadership acumen from the high school age counselors around me. Then it was my turn. I was the teacher even though I was still only a youth in high school.
Next came college where I started as a floor resident in the dorm and then became a head resident. Though I doubt I would have received high marks at that stage, I was still modeling and passing on knowledge and information to those who would come next. Then I was a young priest with youth groups, and then a chaplain with college students. Eventually I led groups of young adults. Each step along the way there was a modeling, teaching, sharing, and supporting relationship. It began with me as the learner receiving from those who were older and committed to sharing with me. Then I was tasked along with others my age to do the same and keep it going — whatever the “it” was in whatever context.
Somewhere along the way, the process became less obvious. I don’t think just for me, but for older people in general. Whether still working or retired, the natural mentoring process of relationships, both familial and public, fades. There are fewer and fewer formal built-in mentoring structures as we age, and with the speed of both technological and cultural change, that mentoring process often needs to be reversed.
I know I am not alone in feeling that I have useful insights to share with my younger colleagues but there are no real mechanisms by which to share them. Most of it isn’t formal anyway, but rather wisdom best shared while working side by side, part of a table fellowship, or hanging out at a cafe.
I cherish what I learned way back from those camp counselors, along the way from older clergy, not to mention the life skills of cooking, house keeping, and home maintenance from older friends and family. So I am thinking about the stewardship of what I know and how to be a good steward of that wisdom and experience. It is not good stewardship to wait to be asked, rather, to seek out appropriate ways of sharing it. Whatever age you are, you have wisdom. Please don’t sit on it.