“If you see something, say something!” This mantra of public awareness and crime prevention spreads throughout our public spaces like an exclamation point that accentuates the other commandments of public virtue. Our society seems to agree: Alert citizens—including those of us are older—are watching AND are willing to raise their voices when they notice something that might be wrong.
It also occurs to me that there could be another way in which this saying is especially true for older adults: Our noticing other somethings and saying something about them as well. Forming a cadre of observant olderlings who are willing to give voice to what they see. Not just about potential criminal behavior, but also about a wider seeing-and-saying that might attach to other parts of life.
In the matter of seeing something, seniors might be especially well-equipped for careful and caring vision. We may now live more slowly—one of the gifts of retirement; we have the time to see what’s really going on. Because of long lifetimes filled with valuable experiences, we may be especially capable of separating what’s worth noticing from what’s not. At this stage in life, we may know instinctively the complex relationships among causes and effects.
When it comes to saying something, old age may provide us special attributes for speaking about what we observe. We still have lively vocabularies; we know how to speak truth in love; we’ve learned how to speak truth to power. Over our lifetimes, we have sharpened our abilities to listen and to tell. We may have stopped worrying about some of the consequences of speaking out. And gathered around us there may be perhaps-invisible cohorts of people willing to pay special attention to what we have to say.
Where might our seeing-and-saying be helpful? In many of the places in daily living where others can’t see or say as well. Where they may be too rushed, timid or confused. Where they may not be able to discern what’s worth noticing or talking about. These situations might include:
• Places where our grandchildren have begun to make questionable decisions about their behaviors, friendships or self-worth.
• Budding relationships with timid others, for whom our voices might be truthful encouragement.
• Reframing conversations that are tipping towards disrespect, disparagement or worse.
• Moments of stalled indecision in groups.
• Meetings in which elephants are in the room, but not yet named.
• Circumstances that have momentarily stolen from admirable people their abilities to see what’s good, what’s beautiful, what’s possible.
• Gratitude-worthy moments that might otherwise go unnoticed.
In these and other settings, we can warn, insist, compliment, frame, summarize, articulate, expose, recognize, decipher or show what we have seen. We can instruct, comfort or challenge. We can simplify what seems chaotic or unknowable. We can soothe feelings that might not be readily noticed. We can express outrage at injustice.
Our seeing-and-saying about the somethings that exist in the human condition—this may be a primary benefit we offer in the wider society, the groups we are a part of, and within our closest relationships. In our prayers.
Read these words as encouragement for your own discernment—seeing and saying something wherever God leads or places you.
This may be one of the most important parts of your calling!
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