The older we get the more life we have lived, the more experience we have gained, and the more history we have witnessed. In many cultures it is recognised that older people are potentially a fount of wisdom, oral history and important story-telling, though the usefulness of listening to those stories, both to the teller and to the listener, is often overlooked and undervalued.

There are at least three important elements of sharing our personal experiences. The first is remembering and retelling our stories, which provides meaning, purpose and context to our lives; it reminds us of what we have achieved and learned – and what we still want to achieve and learn. The second is the sharing of history through the oral and written accounts of elders, especially important where the voices of those who have not traditionally been part of ‘important history’ is concerned. And the third is the traditional role of elders as story-tellers, passing to younger people the legends and tales which are essential elements of our shared cultural legacy.

In relation to the first, Robert Butler, the founder of the New York-based International Longevity Center, coined the term Life Review in 1963. He wrote “I was struck some years back by the fact that older people tend to spend a lot of time reviewing their life. At that time, when people reminisced it was regarded by many psychologists and psychiatrists as an early sign of senility, but as I was working with vital, healthier older people it struck me how important it was for them to come to grips with the kind of life they had led.” Today many older people are telling our life stories, taking life-story writing classes at local colleges, libraries and adult learning centers, working with personal historians to record our life stories, sharing with young people in schools, and above all reminding ourselves of who we are.

And what stories ours are, worth remembering, worth recording, worth sharing, worth listening to! Not only do they remind us of our life’s purpose and meaning, they can also importantly inform and warn those who come after us. As the philosopher George Santayana said so presciently in 1905, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”