“That older/younger person- can’t teach them anything!”
I’m grateful to have been in environments where this is also largely a stereotype. Many Youngers are desperate to learn from their elders, and Elders are more than anxious to sit down with younger people to figure out how they see the world. There is, in fact, much we can learn from each other.
Here are a few key conversations that will benefit greatly from the perspectives and challenges of each generation.
Talking about Time
Youngers struggle with the meaning of time and process. We’ve grown up in a culture that says the internet and speed of technology allows us to have it all right now. This in turn creates massive expectations that are almost certainly dashed, leading to great disappointment. The realization that life is in seasons, and that some seasons are for building and growing and others for receiving and relaxing, would be a game-changer for a lot of Youngers. Elder perspective and mentorship on the idea of seasons of life is much needed.
On the other hand, Youngers are not entirely wrong about the fact that the tools we have today allow for speeding things up. Social media and the internet, for example, create rapid exposure, relationship building, and greater global connectivity. Some of the things that took years in previous generations can take days and months today. Youngers can help Elders learn how to accelerate change and momentum in their organizations and ideas.
One of the typical fault lines between generations comes in the form of technology. The image of “old people” not knowing how to use devices and products and apps is just not reality – I’m thankful to know some incredibly adaptive Elders who outpace a lot of younger peers! How technology is used is where the real differences lie.
Youngers are comically known for sleeping with their phones and devices, and being constantly consumed. Stats out there say that people unlock and check their phones 120-150 times a day. Certainly, Youngers are digitally savvy and see technology as applying to most parts of life, but it comes with downsides. Rising rates of depression from social media usage, disconnectedness from real people, inability to interact with the world outside of technology, and the feeling of always being connected are just a few.
Elders can provide insight into how to manage this, engage better in conversation and relationships, etc. On the flip side, Youngers can help Elders frustrated with the fast-moving pace of technology and seeming lack of personal touch see its value for connecting a disconnected world, working better and faster, etc. These perspectives will allow for developing strategies to benefit from technology while also managing its negative aspects better.
There is often a conflict between “old” and “new,”“tradition” with “progressive.” What this can reflect is a deeper tension between fresh Younger energy that can only see optimistically ahead, and seasoned Elder experience that has wisdom from the past. Without both perspectives things can get messy. With both perspectives we can more clearly figure out what things are truly new and transformative, and which are just repeats of phases in the past.
It’s interesting to sit with Elders and talk about generational qualities in Youngers that I think are distinctive, only to hear that every young person matures in the same way. Or to talk about “new” church design and models that are just copies or slight alterations to older movements. Maybe it’s a political situation that a Younger sees as a major attitude or shift, that an Elder knows is a minor blip on the radar that no one will think twice about in a few months.
On the other hand, there are things that Youngers see that are truly different or unique to their time and place in history, and lack of experience allows for unbiased thought and creativity looking forward. Balancing naïve creativity with experienced savvy, to figure out how and where to invest time and energy, is so crucial for a community's sustainability and resiliency.
What are some other conversations The Generations should be having together? Does this match, or challenge, your experience? Comment below, and share on your Facebook or Twitter!