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What Is Grandmotherly Wisdom?
When I first started this newsletter, I promised myself I won’t debate points of view I disagree with. The only exception was things I used to believe in but no longer do, as in that case I could explain the whole process that took me from here to there. Arguing with points of view I can’t relate to is way too abstract and highly unlikely to convince anyone anyway, I’d much rather chat with someone face to face and personally hear what exactly is their opinion and why.
My biggest inspiration in this is the amazing magazine for little girls that I’ve been writing for. They don’t ever argue why some opinions or stereotypes might be wrong. Instead they paint the picture of a world where what they want to see more of is the most obvious thing on Earth. You will never find there stuff such as “It's a myth that girls are bad at math! As a girl you can totally champion in math too!”. Instead they’ll give you a bunch of incredible tricks that you can do with fractals, Fibonacci numbers, or magic squares.
Writing this way is extremely powerful, but I can only do it after I’ve explored the topic in enough detail to form mature opinions about it. There are many important things I haven’t written about here yet, because I can still only describe my point of view in opposition to something else. It’s probably normal in the beginning, when something feels wrong but you don’t know why exactly all you can say initially is “anything but this!”. It’s only a problem when you stop there instead of exploring it further. What’s wrong with this point of view? What important things could be missing?
When I started this newsletter in November, I first described it as the other kind of wisdom that you won’t find in books written by childless men. I wasn’t happy about this definition but it was the best that I could have come up with at that moment. If I waited for a better one to emerge fully-formed in my head, I would have never started writing here at all.
Now that the 100-day writing challenge is coming to an end and I’ve spent the last few months exploring these topics daily, it’s a good time to rephrase what I was trying to convey back then—not in terms of what grandmotherly wisdom isn’t but finally in terms of what it is.
Grandmotherly Wisdom is knowing that our lives are never fully our own, that we come from a long line of people who came here before us and are now shaping the world for many more generations to inhabit. It’s remembering that each of us can only be as healthy and happy as the whole, and that every single little thing we do becomes the next generation’s idea of normal.
Grandmotherly Wisdom is seeing beauty in the mundane, knowing our whole lives are mostly made of ordinary Wednesdays. It’s knowing that you can’t automate care and attention and that this is precisely what makes them so precious. It’s taking care of your loved ones through food, music, handmade objects, tending to the shared spaces, and mutual help, knowing that all the love you pour into them will come back to you in the end. It’s appreciating all the invisible work that keeps it all possible, so that the rest of the world can finally appreciate it too.
Grandmotherly Wisdom is recognizing that it takes a village not just to raise a kid but to live as a whole, healthy, and happy person. It’s about building bridges and networks of belonging, turning mundane care activities into occasions to get together.
Grandmotherly Wisdom is knowing that we are always a work in progress, that there is always more to learn, build, make, or explore, and that certain kinds of wisdom can only come with time and experience. It’s about growing to become the elders we always wished we had, not for the glory of it, but so that we can serve our communities better.
Grandmotherly Wisdom is having respect for all the hardships our ancestors had to go through so that we could be here. It’s knowing their life was much more challenging in many ways and that it shaped both their opinions and behavior. It’s keeping in mind that any shortcomings of our parents are a product of the circumstances they grew up in and ultimately nothing personal. It’s remembering that if we create even better circumstances for our children they won’t be able to relate to our struggles either, and that this shouldn’t ever stop us from doing so anyway.
Grandmotherly Wisdom is knowing that we can only find solutions to our problems looking forward, that the challenges we have now are a blessing compared with all the hunger, poverty, and violence of the past. It’s knowing that no one is coming here to save us and that it is up to us what kind of a world we’re going to leave for our children and their children. It’s using whatever tools we have available, both old and new, to work on the current crisis, and raising the next generation fully equipped and empowered to pick up where we left off.
Grandmotherly Wisdom is living the life that only you can live, staying true to your desires and the deepest longings of your soul. It’s knowing that you can’t give to someone what you don’t already have yourself, and that the only way to truly help other people is helping yourself first. It’s knowing that our current social scripts and stories don’t have much to offer for old people and especially old women, and that the only way we can live happy and satisfying lives in our 70s or 80s is to figure out now how we want it to look like and to spend the rest of our lives working towards it.
Grandmotherly Wisdom is taking responsibility—first for ourselves, then for our families, neighborhoods, communities, always slowly expanding these circles further. It’s knowing the world will never be fully saved and there will always be terrible things happening somewhere, and saying yes, a wholehearted yes to life in spite of that.
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