Links In The Chain — Mentoring

Oscar Wilde said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Usually, however, some wisdom does tag along.

We hesitate to define ourselves as wise because, if we’re honest, the older we get the less we know (or can remember). And what is ‘wisdom’, anyway? One definition is ‘the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment’.

As we get older we find ourselves in situations where we can offer guidance and support to others. We’ve walked that path, we’ve fallen off it, we learned, we climbed back up and moved on. We’ve been there/done that so many times in our 60, 70, 80 years that we’ve inevitably accumulated a motley collection of experience, knowledge and good judgment which for the purpose of this article I’m going to call wisdom.

It took a long time to collect this bag of wisdom. The acquisition was lengthy, often painful, sometimes arduous or dangerous or tedious, sometimes interesting, or so subtle we didn’t realize we were gathering it over time. Hearts were broken, loved ones died in our arms, babies were born, jobs and homes were lost and found. We learned to deal with bullies and bosses. There is nothing left to learn the hard way. We learned that we could choose to be happy or choose to be miserable, and that we attract those energies to us.

So what can we do with this harvest? Share it. We all have knowledge that will benefit others. Regardless of our age, gender, background or culture, we can all mentor the communities in which we live. As tamu we’re not allowed to volunteer, but we can educate and assist the Balinese families that work with us directly. The last decade has brought huge social change to the Balinese and many struggle to adapt. Basic money management and strategic planning skills are often lacking.

When I first moved here 20 years ago there wasn’t much cash around. Then land values in Ubud started to rise. In the last decade as families sold their land tsunamis of cash have washed through the compounds then receded, leaving nothing behind. With no culture of saving or financial planning, the usual Balinese response to large amounts of money was to share it with the extended family, buy new vehicles and renovate the temple. In a year it would all be gone. There was no concept of saving for a rainy day, or for education.

For the first decade Wayan Manis worked with me I tried to persuade her that a bank account was a good thing. She couldn’t see the sense of it. The family was poor. No one she knew had a bank account; if you needed money, you pawned your gold and sold the pig. But then her daughter became desperately ill and I had to raise 85 million juta in a few days for urgent surgery.

Wayan Manis’ financial education began that week, and since then she’s become a strategic planner and a canny saver. She grew observant and wise, sometimes swimming against the cultural current. She now has private medical insurance for the whole family and a healthy term deposit (they did well in the bamboo straw business before the Chinese undercut it). Thanks to her management, they are planning to build a little salon for local women because the village doesn’t have one. Wayan doesn’t want to become reliant on the tourism industry – she’s seen what happens to the local economy when the tourists dry up.

I admire the way Wayan Manis has observed the way I do things and thought about the benefits in the context of her family before   selectively adopting certain practices. There is zero tolerance for litter in her compound. The family eats more vegetables and less meat and fried food than it used to. She ensures that the elders drink enough water — a big issue here; many Balinese are chronically dehydrated, leading to kidney stones and other ailments. The family dogs are well-fed, sterilized and vaccinated, and her daughter bullies/persuades the neighbours to follow suit. They no longer keep pigs; she crunched the numbers and discovered that the family would earn more by having rental units in that space. These were built with a little design help from me using money she had already saved.

Wayan Manis has become a trusted and respected mentor in her banjar. She supports victims of domestic violence, shares resources with poorer neighbours and when there is piece work to be done in our projects, she carefully selects the women who need the work most. I am in awe of how much this woman, born very poor, has grown to become a wise pillar of her community. I have mentored Wayan Manis through some of these changes but many she has figured out on her own.

Both of the kids have been through the one-year course at Campuhan College and continue to network with the alumni in mentoring young Balinese who are less well off. Although young, they are forming links in the social chain of sharing the wisdom and information they do have.

Within my own culture, everyone in my generation I talk to feels grateful that we were born when we were. We had the opportunity to explore a calmer, kinder world as yet unspoiled by mass tourism and unrealistic expectations. I’ve seen a big spike in anxiety in younger people in our own cultures over the past few years. And no wonder. It’s an increasingly dark and chaotic world. Climate crisis, a dangerous swing to right wing politics, increasing misogyny, environmental degradation, spiritual poverty, potential pandemics, student debt … all these are a heavy burden for the thoughtful.

It’s hard. We can help. We’re in a position to offer balance and perspective. Not necessarily advice, but just to hold the space for those that need to talk or share their distress. Sometimes we have specific information that is helpful. We don’t know how much we know, and how useful the wisdom we’ve collected so painfully over time can be. I was able to serve an old friend dying of cancer by sitting with her grown children and explaining very carefully what was going to happen medically, financially and legally so they wouldn’t be blindsided by events in the months to come.

As we learned from our mentors, we become mentors ourselves.

This will be my last column for Boomers. May your path be smooth and joyful.

We have been forged by life as links in the chain of wisdom that spans cultures and generations.


By Ibu Kat

The Boomer Corner is a column dedicated to people over 60 living in Bali. Its mandate is to cover topics, practicalities, activities, issues, concerns and events related to senior life in Bali. We welcome suggestions from readers.

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