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A Legacy for Your Grandchildren



by Charles D. Hayes

What we leave behind in words and deeds will reside for a time in the memories of those who live on. If we've achieved maturity, the relationships we established will act as seeds for improving interactions among the living. When, by living example, we sanction our heirs to learn the greatest lessons of their lives, we give them something that money cannot buy. We give them vitality and the foundational principle of what later in life comes to be known as confidence. The role grandparents can play in helping their grandchildren develop a thirst for knowledge and an enthusiasm for learning is profoundly important, but it sounds far simpler than it is. Here is a good start:

•  Try to remember what it's like not to know.

•  Never forget that people who are not learners cannot inspire others to be what they themselves are not. Children see through such pretensions.

•  Make sure that you take time for your grandchildren's questions when no one else does-especially when no one else does. Keep in mind there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.

•  Recognize that some learning is painful and that significant emotional events are often great pivotal moments in life.

•  Never forget that life's greatest lessons stem from mistakes. Fear of making mistakes is a crippling condition that essentially amounts to fear of life itself.

•  Keep in mind always that learning is and should be exciting. Enthusiasm is a great teacher.

•  Make it your long-term goal to convince your grandchildren, through your own actions, that America 's greatest treasures are found not in our shopping malls but in our libraries.

•  Realize that every discipline representing a vertical hierarchy of knowledge results in horizontal consequences for other people; the more dynamic the knowledge, the greater the effects. Thus, maturity requires that the horizontal keep pace with the vertical.

•  Remember that learning is its own reward. When you help your grandchildren appreciate this notion, you help them avoid internalizing the belief that learning is behaving, and you give them an essential tool for establishing a sense of self: the ability to think for themselves. Having that ability leads to the greatest means of independence a person can have: the ability to define value for oneself, which provides the foundation for autonomy.


With these as your guiding principles, you will be able to encourage a healthy attitude toward learning in children from an early age. As they progress, look for opportunities to broaden their thinking and support their autonomy. For example:


•  Help them to discover that the best way to begin to study any subject is to bring it into perspective through their own questions.

•  Help them to discover that understanding history enables us to fashion a better future.

•  Help them learn to think of knowledge not as a possession, but as a process in which we plot our course in life. Continuous learning strengthens our ability to navigate our way through everyday experience.

•  Help them to understand that books are but perspectives; the more books they read, the larger their own perspective will become.

•  Help them to understand that we naturally learn more about what we care about, and that a shortcut to knowledge can be found in learning to care.

•  Help them to understand that it's easier to become great at what you are naturally good at than good at what you seem to have little or no aptitude for. In other words, building on strengths is a shortcut to confidence.

•  Help them to discover that technology is the way that you leverage your skills and strengths. The technologies they grow up with, even cutting-edge computer technology, will seem as natural to them in a few years as radio and television do to us. If you fear technology yourself, do not voice your apprehensions. On the contrary, learn with your grandchildren, with their help. Join in, and benefit from their enthusiasm and natural curiosity.

•  Help them to understand that the properties of life discussed in this text represent but a few of the possible vantage points from which to examine the things we most often take for granted. Encourage them to create their own list of properties and to appreciate how they are avenues of insight into the human predicament.

•  Help them learn to identify the many guises of anti-intellectualism and to understand it as a tool of misanthropes, disingenuous politicians, and ignorant people. Help them see that anti-intellectualism is anathema to human growth and an obstacle to experiencing quality of life.

•  Help them to understand that money is not the ultimate valuation of value in our society, even though most people behave as if it's true.

•  Help them to recognize the senselessness of confusing their identity with brand-name products.

•  Help them to understand that pretentiousness is not only a characteristic of immature behavior, but also one of life's greatest detractors from authenticity.

•  Help them to discover the wisdom in the metaphor that life is a journey, not a destination.

•  Help them to understand the language of metaphors and how these imaginings color our sense of reality and shape our spatial sense of the world. In matters of the heart, for instance, reasoning in the head is always necessary.

•  Help them to understand Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences and specifically how it applies to their own individual talents.

•  Help them to understand that mastering the ability to read not only will open the whole world to them, but also will become its own reward as a relief valve for dissipating the kind of anxiety that thrives in societal ignorance.

•  Help them learn to value and appreciate the strengths and power available to those with the courage to be different.

•  Help them to discover how creativity is both a means of distinguishing ourselves from others as well as a subtle attempt at endearment.

•  Help them to appreciate Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow and the value of learning with optimal effort. We learn best when the challenge is not overwhelming but is sufficient to hold our sustained interest.

•  Help them to understand that there is an enormous difference between simply being too distracted by external stimuli to be truly aware of the present moment and being so engaged and enthralled by what you are doing that the notion of time disappears altogether.

•  Help them internalize the notion that an education is not something you get, but is something you take. Explain that this is not a posture of arrogance, but a declaration of self-reliance.

•  Help them to discover that institutions can be good places for learning, but if your desire to learn is strong and you are interested in the great questions confronting our species, then they may actually obstruct your learning. The way to prevent this is not to let your curiosity be overridden by their curricula.

•  Help them to understand that the greatest defense against peer pressure is often found in the courage to be different and that until leaders reveal who they are through their acts of independence people don't recognize them as leaders.

•  Help them to understand that there is truth in the old saying that actions speak louder than words: that the world is rife with people who don't walk their talk, a fact which doesn't by itself impugn their veracity but should, as Nietzsche suggested, arouse suspicion.

•  Help them to discover the need to be wary of groups and organizations that discourage questions. Explain the dangers of ideological black holes.

•  Regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of one, help them to comprehend the notion of spirituality as a means of relating and as an expression of a thoughtful love of life.

•  Help them to understand the dynamics of human relationships, that the success of humanity requires thinking of ourselves as one planet, one people, one family, and that this process requires vigorous intellectual effort to overcome our biological predisposition for kin.

•  Help them to understand that generational differences can be understood with effort and that, when you strip away custom and tradition, all people have the same human needs and wants.

•  Help them to understand that the differences among us appear far more mysterious than need be. A key to better understanding them can be found in the straightforward observation that people learn to long for what they grow up without. The property of reverence thus applied can help bridge understanding among groups.

•  Help them to understand that democracy is dependent upon an educated populace, and its very quality requires that citizens stand taller than consumers.

•  And finally-not through your words, but through your actions-help them to realize that there is nothing to fear as one gets increasingly closer to the end of life. This emblazons an image in the minds of young people of the dignity of old age.


A primary goal for the learning of those who live after us is that they develop enough enthusiasm for life to be able to sustain themselves as far as possible above the world of clichés and slogans. Understanding that people believe as they perceive, we might regard anxiety as a form of ignorance and thus create fertile ground for inquiry. If we are to change minds, we must change perception, and this requires active exploration. This is by no means an easy task, and at times the peer pressure and fast pace of the lives of young people make it seem very impracticable. Further, we must consider John Holt's observation that "99 percent of the time, teaching that has not been asked for will not result in learning, but will impede learning." Nevertheless, by focusing on the needs of the generations that follow and working to change their perception, we have an opportunity to embrace Erikson's final stage of life in pursuit of integrity while simultaneously relieving ourselves of the anxiety of aging. Using my own grandparents as a guide, I propose that it is the responsibility of grandparents to leave indelible memories as to just what grandparents are supposed to be like. In this way, the notion that successive generations can lay the foundation on which their heirs will build their lives becomes quite literally true.

Genuine confidence connects at a deep level to the umbilical cord of our emotions; our head and heart metaphors for apprehending the world lead us to the development of a grown-up conscience. Part of the strength required for believing one has a chance in life is bound to the kind of care one has received as a youngster. Grandparents who leave such a legacy to their grandchildren give them something far more valuable than money. Without ever mentioning it, they teach them how to be grandparents, and therein lies the rapture of maturity. The late Neil Postman's immortal declaration, "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see," is a lasting aspiration of maturity and a reverberation of rapture.

The caterpillar is condemned to crawl, but the butterfly has the potential to soar above with an all-inclusive view of the world. As humans we complete our caterpillar stage when we reach mature physical growth. If we are to soar like the butterflies, we must do so through the development of our minds. The enhanced view is always worth the effort. Indeed, the very thing that determines the quality of the later seasons of life is the degree to which we are interested in learning more about the world. Our final stage of human development includes the capacity for rapture as our desire to better understand the world helps to make it a better place for those who live on after us. Our moral concerns shift from the behavior of individuals to global relations and humanity's future. If our efforts bear enough fruit, perhaps we will be remembered as wise. We will have left a lasting legacy, and we will have taken our leave with integrity.


Excerpted from The Rapture of Maturity: A Legacy of Lifelong Learning by Charles D. Hayes. Copyright © 2004 by Charles D. Hayes . All rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with Autodidactic Press. $21.95. Available in local bookstores or click here.

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