When I was a child, it was called the Generation Gap. In those rebellious 1960’s, it was marked by a lack of respect and distrust from one generation to another. Today, it is accentuated by incessant titles: Boomers, Busters, Generation X-ers and so on. Such artificial, demographics-driven labels!
Before you shrug your shoulders and say, “That’s just the way it is,” stick with me.
I believe SO many problems could be solved if there weren’t this “Us” and “Them” mentality. Just think how great it would be if the lines of communication were more open between youth, parents, grandparents and so forth. We could learn SO much from each other if teens would quit rolling their eyes at their “embarrassing” parents, and elderly folks could avoid grimacing around exuberant youth.
I’ve observed that many older people assume kids are lazy, untrustworthy, spoiled. On the flip side, plenty of children and teens assume their elders are set in their ways and couldn’t possibly understand today’s problems. When single, I assumed it would be HUGELY preferable to marry someone within about two years of my own age, because we’d have a similar viewpoint and experience. But now that I’m married to someone 10 years older, I know better. Vive la difference!
With this revised perspective, I wish I could spend more time with older relatives who are now in Heaven – my grandparents, mom, aunt – because now there would be a heightened sensitivity and ability to soak up their wisdom and love.
With that in mind, what can one generation learn from another? Here’s a few thoughts…
Three Qualities We Could All Learn From Our Elders
Oddly, I was quite patient as a child, but lost that virtue somewhere along the way. But in my experience it’s generally older people who seem to have much more patience. They’ve inevitably been through more circumstances that test patience, which in turn develops more patience. I’ve witnessed fathomless depths of patience in my mom, my aunt and my stepmom as they dealt with cancer.
I wish I had learned sooner that handling things with patience brings peace, and that peace is valuable. Maybe now, even in this world of microscopic attention spans, I’d be able to wait in line without checking my Blackberry 16 times. Maybe two minutes waiting for the microwave wouldn’t seem like an eternity. Or two seconds for a web page to load!
Where do I start? Whether we learn by observing their mistakes or their successes, older people are a treasury of wisdom. Hang out with them, and some of it could rub off on you. Some pearls from the older folks: 1) Take care of your teeth to avoid dentures; 2) Wear sunscreen to prevent premature wrinkles; 3) Don’t frown or your face will freeze that way. Alright, maybe some bits of “wisdom” can be taken with a grain of salt. On second thoughts, go easy on the sodium!
The biggie for me would have been to learn interpersonal skills from someone who lived the majority of their life in a non-tech environment. Priceless. I think of my grandmother, for whom face-time was so important. Even after moving late in life into a senior community, she went out of her way to make friends with her new neighbors and spend time with them. Not on Facebook or even on the phone, but primarily live and in-person. There is such wisdom in this, as some believe that strong social ties promote long life. They certainly make those extra years more pleasant, too.
My other grandmother had enough resources to live a more comfortable life. But she was happy with just a little dirt to plant tomatoes in, and a sewing machine. She didn’t spend her money on extra luxuries for herself, like getting her hair and nails done. She’d go around in the same cheap shoes, polyester pants and thrift store blouses. But time after time, she helped my sisters and me with college expenses, including sometimes housing us in her own home.
Whenever we ate out with her, she’d grab the check with lightning speed. (And they say your reflexes slow down as you age. Ha!) If we protested, she’d give this melodramatic, hurt-puppy look, and whimper, “It’s the only fun I have!” She would even regularly send money to her relatives in Russia, whom she hadn’t seen in decades. Then when we’d ask her what she wanted for Christmas, she’d say, “I only need stockings.”
There’s so much we can learn from each other and I think it’s a real shame that more of us don’t take the time to listen to our elders – or pay attention to what our kids have to say. If you go back to the Bible it echoes this sentiment perfectly. God said, “Honor your father and mother… that you may live long on the earth,’ and yet how many of us fail to do that in our everyday lives? Long life. That’s quite a promise! There is so much more wisdom you can gain from those who have already led a long life – so many stories to be told and lessons to be learned.
On the flip side, we also need to honor and respect our younger generation. Even Jesus told his disciples not to turn away children, but to emulate them! There are many lessons we can learn from our youth. Here are a few examples to get you started:
Three Qualities Our Kids Can Teach Us
Kids thrive on excitement and pour their hearts into whatever activity they’re engrossed in. We’ve all seen how children are on Christmas morning! But how many grown-ups get so excited that they can’t even fall asleep the night before? How long has it been since someone gave you a very special gift, and your reaction was to dance around the room laughing and singing? When you tell someone about your trip to Disneyland, do you light up the room? I want to be like that again.
Kids are so quick to soak up new information. They make it seem so effortless to learn a new language, for example.
I saw my little first-grader nephews in August and they were starting to read… slowly. I saw them again in December and they were reading quickly and barely missing a word! How did they get so good so fast? Kids are like sponges. They just soak everything up so fast. How can I be more like this?
What a blessing to observe my then 5-year-old twin nephews in a situation most adults would find awkward at best: visiting someone severely disabled. The first time they met my sister-in-law, who is incapacitated and cannot move freely or even talk, they did not hesitate to approach her, look her in the eye and bring her their sweetness and joy. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought they might find her physical condition and all her medical paraphernalia intimidating. But they saw right past all that.
One way to connect with someone much older or younger than you is to ask them to teach or show you how to do something. They will feel valued if you demonstrate your wish to tap into their special knowledge or expertise. Recently at my sister’s house, I asked my little nephews to show me how to play their Wii video games. They put their coaches’ hats on and jumped right in. What a joyous time!
But what are your experiences when it comes to the famous generation gap? Have you been guilty of building walls – or are you trying to break them down? What have your kids taught you? And what about your elders? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
Lisa Kinsolving and her husband Carey live in Texas and run a web-based ministry that encourages kids to study the Bible and lets them express their faith through writing, video and art: KidsTalkAboutGod.org. They’ve also recently started a new site to encourage grown-ups to share their testimonies: FaithProfiles.org.