Jack Kamen was born in 1913 above his father's harness shop in Brownsville, a Yiddish-speaking section of Brooklyn.
His parents recently immigrated from Russia. Grateful to be in America, they encouraged their children to learn American ways.
Jack learned English, went to public schools, and even earned a college degree. He married and bought a home in the suburbs.
Jack had a family and moved to California. The kids grew up, left home, and Jack got old.
At 84, his health was failing. No one expected him to reach 85.
Rick Kamen was born in 1951 in a comfortable suburban home on Long Island.
In 1998, Rick was working on a book about something he calls "natural behaviors." Those are things that all living things do naturally.
The behaviors might not help the individuals, but they are essential for the species.
Examples are trees bearing fruit, plants producing flowers, male black widow spiders mating (they know it's dangerous), or humans learning as children, being productive as adults, and transferring wisdom as elders.
Why do we do natural behaviors? They make us happy. While we may be free to pursue happiness, we're not free to determine what creates it in us. That's coded in our genes.
It would be cruel to prevent anything from doing its natural behaviors. Frustration is a form of stress and can damage health.
What about people who can't do their natural behaviors? Can we improve their health by providing opportunities?
Rick decided to experiment on his 84 year-old father. His health needed a boost and modern society makes it difficult for elders to do their natural behaviors.
Elders are the storytellers in tribal and traditional societies. They're great at it, they love it, and it transfers wisdom to the kids, who love listening.
Not only is storytelling a natural behavior for elders, it may be the only one for those with limited abilities. Without at least one natural behavior, we can't maintain our health or mood.
"My father's health should improve if I give him storytelling opportunities," Rick predicted.
So Rick telephoned his father. "Didn't you grow up speaking Yiddish?" Rick asked. "Tell me what it was like when you were young. I'll write the stories up for the grandkids."
When Rick asked for Jack's childhood stories, he bounced back like a thirsty plant after a rain.
Immediately, Jack's voice sounded ten years younger. Energy returned, and his health decline stopped. A month later, his blood tests confirmed the improvement.
The interviews continued for almost a year, at least once a week.
Jack had several more birthdays. He was healthier at 90 than he was at 84, when he started storytelling with Rick.
Did the experiment show that storytelling is a natural behavior for elders? Almost… we haven't shown how the stories benefit our species yet.
For that, read a story here, here or here. Do you appreciate the elder-wisdom woven into the tales? When people think like that, they're happier and contribute more to their families, their communities, … and humanity.
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