On Respect for Elders

Wharton is an eclectic group of individuals. From investment analysts with two years of work experience on the trading floor to twenty-year military Veterans, we’re all at different stages and points in our careers. However, with the onset of the A.I./Big Data/exponentially fast-changing technological trends (call it whatever you want), I think many of us are prioritizing cutting-edge skill acquisition over tried and true experience-based knowledge.

I recently had a discussion with a professor about how different the classroom is today from years past. The fact that there is now competition between veteran PhD’s who have toiled for years in their subjects and computer screens displaying the latest Bloomberg article or python coding guide is more evidence of this issue. With such a complex modern economy, it almost feels like you’re behind if you can’t explain the latest time management software to your learning team. What this information overload is really doing is deprioritizing the traditional way of asking a professor for advice in search of quicker but not always better learning methods.

My argument is that listening to the humans who have accumulated years of knowledge and are tasked with educating us is a better use of time than spending hours on some website trying to discover how to code the front-page of that wine-tasting startup you had an idea for. My fear is that professor-student interactions will decrease and the classroom will become ever more transactional.

One solution to this issue is to begin by thanking our elders, showing respect toward those that have paved the way before us. Recently, I sent a thank-you to a speaker who came to talk to us. His response shocked me when he said that after years of coming to talk, he never once had a student write him a thank you email. Clapping at the conclusion of a course or taking a professor to lunch isn’t really enough to show appreciation for the time they’ve taken to stand up in front of the room and try to impart some wisdom on us. Don’t get me wrong, there are bad courses and occasionally professors who don’t try their hardest, but a level of gratitude for those who have imparted wisdom should be warranted. As our generation becomes the “break it down to build it up” generation of disruption, one thing that shouldn’t be replaced is our traditional values of gratitude toward those that are older.



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