Integrity Matters
October 10, 2007

'Wooden bowl' model shows that actions speak louder than words

Question: (E-309)
What is an "integrity-centered" way to treat elderly parents?


My response is shaped by this anonymously written "wooden bowl" illustration.

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law and 4-year old grandson. The elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. He frequently spilled milk on the tablecloth.

Irritated with the mess; the son and daughter-in-law decided to do something about father because they'd had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.

So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner.

There, the grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner, together.

Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was now being served in a wooden bowl.

When family members glanced in Grandfather's direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

Their 4-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor; asking, "So, what are you making?" The son said, "Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food when I grow up."

The parents were speechless. Tears streamed down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening the husband took Grandfather's hand, leading him back to the family table.

For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family.

And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

Human beings tell others a lot about themselves by how they handle many things, including: rainy days, the elderly, lost luggage, crying children, a poor golf shot, rude service people and tangled Christmas tree lights.

Every day offers opportunities to reach out, including to the elderly.

And one of the most important forms of outreach begins with listening, seeking to understand and support other people - often when they are least able to help themselves, including aging parents.

People love that human touch, especially genuine recognition and appreciation.

What we do speaks louder, and more powerfully, than what we say. Great wisdom says to "preach positive values, using words only if you must."

Current and future generations emulate what they see in the ways adults treat others. Bottom line: Good things happen to good people who do good deeds, demonstrating that integrity is contagious - and this includes the treatment of elderly parents.

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