The oral tradition, as opposed to literature,
existed ever since the first story was told. Of the 50,000 years of
human existence, it has been only 6000 years since the first word was
written, and it wasn’t until Gutenberg invented moveable type in the
1400s that books became more accessible.
Before this time, the oral tradition played a big
role. Take Africa for instance (before the missionaries came). If you
went there, you wouldn’t find volumes of law books. You wouldn’t see a
Bible or a Sutra as a basis for religion. You wouldn’t see children
lugging school books around.
Instead, you would hear the head of the village
orally quoting the rules to settle disputes. You would hear the
priestess prophesizing what the gods had told her. You would see the
mother telling her children the stories of why things are.
In that culture, the absence of texts and written
material required a strong oral tradition. The laws, religion, stories,
everything, would be remembered and passed down through generations and
generations. Knowledge wasn’t stored on paper; it was stored in
people’s minds, and who would have been more knowledgeable than the
elderly? Who would have heard more stories or experienced more things
than the older people? No one. The Elders knew the most, and that’s why
they were the most respected and most honored.
But nowadays, we have a written language, we have
texts. We are not as dependent on our elders anymore. Although the oral
tradition still plays a part in society, it’s not as much as before.
However, there are many things that someone older
can share with you that can never be found in any book. Simple things.
For example, there isn’t anything documenting Grandma’s secret recipe
to make blueberry pie, or explaining Grandpa’s ability to fix
everything you break, or accounting for Dad’s way to know what you
wanted for Christmas, or revealing Mom’s method for inexplicably
knowing what you did wrong, or more importantly, the basic lessons of
human life—how to be a good person.
My point is that there are things that you as a
kid eventually learn only from your elders, not texts. A certain kind
of knowledge that is passed down to you.
You don’t learn how to establish right and wrong
from a book, computer, or TV. And it’s far easier to understand what
it’s like to live somewhere, experience something, or see something
special when someone explains it to you orally.
It’s these things that you learn from your elders
who have a life time of experience and knowledge to share. Therefore,
elders are the most valuable storehouse of knowledge for every society.
So by honoring our elders, we are supporting the
foundation of our society and culture. And as each generation venerates
their elders, with their accumulated knowledge and experience, society
will certainly improve and flourish.
Before it’s too late, I would like to take this
opportunity to represent Instilling Goodness Elementary School and
Developing Virtue Secondary School to greet the elders: Thank you for
your contributions to society. May you all be well and happy.