The Grandparent’s Hypothesis: The Story We Live is What We Leave Behind

Orca - Antarctica

Orca – Antarctica

Perhaps our title, The Grandparent’s Hypothesis, is an unexpected title for a Fourth of July Holiday Blog. But, then, the Declaration of Independence we have been celebrating is almost 240 years old. So, our Declaration and we grandparents have something in common: We are getting old.

Then, using a photo of a whale – in particular an Orca, known as the “Killer Whale” – as our lead photo is also suspect. But then, our Declaration, the Orcas, and we grandparents all have something in common:

We have a story to share with our younger generations.

In a sense the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, and the Constitution, written 11 years later, are “Me” documents, providing each of the states who would join the union and its citizens motivation and direction – something immediate, frequently as a compromise honed with the citizens of the other states. But these documents are also “We” documents, future-oriented documents, providing guidance and wisdom for those of us alive today, and for our younger generations, born and unborn – championing “rights” for each of us, yet providing us with challenges as to how we best should live for ourselves and for others.

The lasting poetry of the Declaration is in its message, in its expression of the Wisdom of Our Elders – our Founding Fathers, who not only discussed, debated, and pontificated with an eye both on the present and on the future, but who also devoted their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to their vision, not only for themselves – the “Me” within their genes – but for us – the “We” within their genes. Without doing so, whatever American Dream we live today would be scripted in another way and we, as Americans, would not have an opportunity to be role models for our global neighbors.

As we reflect on the tattered pages of the Declaration of Independence and how, some 240 years later its wisdom still guides us, let us ask ourselves:

What about the Wisdom of us who are today’s Elders? Do we also provide sound guidance for our future generations?

Author Richard Wagamese, a Canadian Ojibway, wrote:

“All that we are is story. From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time…”

Which brings me to the Orcas and us grandparents.

We both have something in common. We both live a long time after our child-bearing years. And its only humans, Orcas, and one other species of whales, that do this. Like humans, female Orcas live long after their reproductive years end at about age 40 – often living into their 90s as more of us humans are beginning to do. Classic research predicts that this shouldn’t be so, since long-term survival after child-bearing years does not advance species reproduction.

So, why?

In a March 2015 Current Biology article titled Ecological Knowledge, Leadership and the Evolution of Menopause in Killer Whales, after a nine-year study, researchers reported that they have begun to put together the answer: Wisdom.

Young Orcas – and young humans – need the Wisdom of Their Elders.

The elder female Orcas, who live longer than the males, use their ecological know-how to lead their groups on hunts for salmon. Their most important leadership times are when there are period of food shortages. The young male Orca whales in particular are helped by elder leadership and without it the males die at earlier ages. As the study puts it:

“(P)ostreproductive females act as repositories of ecological knowledge and thereby buffer their kin against environmental hardships. … boost(ing) the fitness of kin through the transfer of ecological knowledge. The value gained from the wisdom of the elders can help explain why female resident killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing. … The wisdom benefits of age are likely to be widespread, and recent research has shown that older individuals in a range of taxa can improve the ability of groups to navigate, solve problems, and respond to potential dangers. … In humans, resident killer whales, and short-finned pilot whales, the benefits of helping therefore increase with age.”

Wisdom. Transfer of Knowledge. Improving the abilities of our young to solve problems and respond to danger.

What a challenge we Elders have!

Yes, our retirement is a period for a modicum of self-indulgence, for us to travel to far away places that we could never visit when we were young, to exploit our hobbies, and to tweak our imaginations with lifelong learning opportunities. But there is more.

When I wrote Wonderlust, I wrote in the Preface:

“It’s never too late. We’re never too old to become young. We’re never too old to be guided by the willing hand of the Child Within. We’re never too old to tear away the bindings strapped tightly around our minds and our hearts, distorting our vision and cooling our passions.”

And Wonderlust closes with a brief discussion about my favorite philosopher, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and physician Albert Schweitzer. In his early years, Dr. Schweitzer had began to write a four-volume Philosophy of Civilization. In 1923, Schweitzer published the first two volumes.

In the late 1950s, Saturday Review of Literature Editor Norm Cousins visited Schweitzer in Africa, interviewing him for Cousins’ book, Dr. Schweitzer of Lambarene. He asked Schweitzer why his Philosophy of Civilization remained incomplete. Schweitzer’s response, which I set as a challenge for each of us:

“My life will be my argument.”

To which Wonderlust adds:

I will be a Difference Maker.

As our Founding Fathers were Difference Makers for future generations, providing us with their Wisdom that continues to guide us, as Wisdom of the Orca Elders guides their young, particularly through troubled times, we too should make Our Lives Our Arguments. We too should come to understand:

Our Story, Our Wisdom, is All That We Leave Behind. It is up to each of us to write the best story we can.

That is the message – the responsibility each of us have to those we will leave behind – I take from our Declaration of Independence.


Who We Are Is What We Leave Behind from Subaru:

ARVE Error: id and provider shortcodes attributes are mandatory for old shortcodes. It is recommended to switch to new shortcodes that need only url

The Brutus Papers:

This blog is part of the series I have titled as the “Brutus Papers.” In the late 18th Century, when the Constitution was under consideration, a series of 85 papers were published by James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton about the Constitution. These papers were known as the Federalist Papers. Another series of 85 papers, known as the Anti-Federalist Papers, were published, challenging the Federalist Papers’ conclusions and opinions. The Anti-Federalist Papers were published under fictitious names. One such name was Brutus. As I have reread the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, I was amazed to find that so many of the concerns expressed by the Anti-Federalist are making their way into today’s news.

After completing Wonderlust, which had its origination in many of the messages of earlier blogs, I decided that from time to time I would write blogs in more depth, and perhaps on more controversial subjects. Hence, the name The Brutus Papers.

To learn more about Wonderlust, click on:

Wonderlust Cover

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of