In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, we thought it would be useful to create a list of questions that could replace the common questions people in our demographic are often asked by our elders. The inauthentic exchanges we often face (via questions like “How are you?” “What are your plans?” “How’s school?”) serve as a comfortable buffer for them. These questions also function as their system of valuation of us and our lives’ progress. Those types of questions do not generally facilitate a genuine exchange for us to express ourselves openly and to be heard. We need a more well-rounded approach to helping young people self-actualize.
This list is based on our personal experience as young women in a coming-of-age within ourselves, combined with quickly evolving social, political, and economic structures that influence that process. These were missed opportunities for our generation to learn with our kūpuna (elders) and for us to reflect back to them (and to receive their acknowledgment, guidance, and direction). We are the embodiment of their successes, as well as their failures.
The following will be the first in a series of evolving lists reflecting on ‘better questions’: questions to ask our youth, questions to ask ourselves, questions to ask our leaders, questions to ask to understand other cultures, and the like. Enjoy, reflect, respond:
Better Questions for Elders to Ask Our Generation
1. How are you feeling?
Often times we’ll just say “I’m fine,” but the reality is most of the time we’re not fine; we’re experiencing more complex feelings and we’re not always clear on how to identify or express them. It would be good to take the time to deconstruct the emotions that we have at those moments, identify where they are coming from and why, and have them be acknowledged by someone who has possibly been there before and can help us process them. It’s an opportunity for vulnerability, growth, and understanding to help us step more fully into who we are, and we need the elders with whom we have relationships, or want to have deeper relationships, to acknowledge our humanity in that way.
2. Have you done anything fun lately?
This is a chance to reflect on the things that we are grateful for — the positive things that are nourishing us that we may not acknowledge very often. Evolutionarily speaking, our brains naturally focus more on remembering the unpleasant things we need to avoid in the future because it serves as a tool for survival. Nowadays we don’t need to just survive, so we are more susceptible to unhealthy habits of ruminating on our struggles.
3. What have you been struggling with lately?
While focusing on the positives is important, processing our struggles is still equally important. Sometimes when we’re with elders we admire, we may often have many questions and issues we want to work out and hear their perspectives on. But we may also feel self-conscious about coming out with the things we’re having difficulty with because it can make us feel like we’re bringing others down by virtue of always wanting to talk about the struggles we otherwise don’t voice.
4. What are a few of your favorite things?
Anything. Just to celebrate the foods, places, activities, belongings, etc. that add special joy to our everyday life. It really is the little things in life that can make the most difference.
5. What do you dream about?
What are your dreams? Have you had any crazy dreams lately? What do you daydream about most often? What are your “high in the sky apple pie” dreams. It feels really good to share those dreams, even in an everyday conversation with those who can appreciate them.
6. What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Is it a physical characteristic or a personal trait? What is your gift? What makes you stand out? We tend to be shy about our skills, talents, and qualities that others don’t necessarily share. Often times to stand out and honor our gifts is perceived as rude or arrogant. We tend to downplay our amazingness, especially at a time in our lives when identifying and celebrating our gifts is so critical to helping us discover our unique role in contributing to our communities’ well being.
7. What would you want to do on an adventure?
Adventure is an important value to foster. Many of the greatest oral traditions, epic journeys, and ancient literature revolve around adventurous themes through which important life lessons and virtues are woven. Adventure is a teacher: it humbles you, enlivens you, and imparts a sense of wonder and awe at our place in the universe and the untold limits of our quest for knowledge and meaning. Where would we want to have that adventure take us?
8. Where is your sanctuary?
Where is your sacred space? What do you do or where do you go to feel your most safe, connected, grounded, and energized? Places and activities that foster those feelings often provide the keys to uncovering our life’s work. They are where and how we feel most fully human and most fully ourselves.
9. What inspires you?
What kindles your fire? What gives you hope for the future? Which words, images, songs, or dances resonate with you? Do the lives of contemporary or historical figures influence you in a powerful way? These are the people and places we draw encouragement from. All of these questions are tools to ground us within our communities, acknowledge our histories, embrace our cultures, and heal with our families. By simply asking the right questions our elders engage our authentic selves and uplift an entire generation.
[Authored by Mahealani and Emily K.]