Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a teaching conference during which I attended a session specifically geared toward identifying and breaking down generational barriers. Many educators in the room could share the same story – frustrated by colleagues of various other generations who had different modes of teaching and learning, who could access teaching experience or technology, but struggled to master both. There were stories shared that ultimately resulted in an understanding that each new generation has a new way of operating, but is not always willing to learn from the next; and in the same way, the new generations no longer look to the older for guidance. The room was full of rivers of discontent, attitudes that wanted to build bridges, and an inability to find the best foundations.
We can see this same crisis of disconnection happening in every sphere of our lives. Social media meme’s in which a millennial and boomer job interview goes awry; generation X floundering with their understanding of a pre-computer, post-computer world, but without any intention of trying to build a bridge; generation Alpha joining a workforce when generation Z has only just begun to make a name for themselves. Rather than embracing opportunities to learn to engage and experience the world through the lens of varied and beautiful views, the generational divide grows and shapes our willingness to interact across age and stage and we lose touch with tradition in the name of embracing contemporary culture, and similarly, tradition is chosen for name only rather than reason. We are actively working against one another and in so doing, segmenting our communities in ways that will soon be irreparable. This is happening not only with my colleagues, not only in our workplaces, but also in our churches, our homes, and neighborhood communities, and our homes.
In the months following the conference, I’ve continually thought back to another inter-generational experience which had every element that would lend toward generational division and strife. 2 silent, 6 boomer, 4 x, 4 millennial: A recipe for the complete chaos of misunderstanding, stubborn pride, willful ignorance (is that the same thing?), social and cultural mismatch, a broad swath of new and old ideas and ideals bound to clash. Once a week we met; disagreeing on politics, religion, language, priorities, and propriety. Some lived economically secure and some on the verge of losing everything. Bringing all of this and more, we sat down to pray, to share a meal, and to share life. Grandma and Grandpa’s table held all of this, and the adults in the room set aside quarrels and fears or shared them around that table. Regardless of religious affiliations or beliefs, we joined hands and a prayer was said for each person around the table that then extended to all of those missing. If you sat close to grandpa, you’d wait extra long and through squirming and giggling, have to “remind” him it was time to let go of your hand after the amen. It was hilarious, every time.
I don’t remember controversial topics being avoided, only that life was shared. When those around the table didn’t agree, they talked about it. None of the disagreements meant we weren’t going to show up to the next dinner; we didn’t un-friend or un-family someone – more often than not, we probably agreed to disagree and knew the people around the table better by the end of the meal. I would imagine we also had a little more of an idea of the argument we needed to bring forth next time to try and win someone else over to our way of seeing the world, but ultimately, that wasn’t the point. Instead we were committed to listening and loving, and trying to make the world a better place for our family and friends.
I do not recall generational divisions ever being mentioned around our family table. Not once was there a disagreement or misunderstanding that culminated in eye rolls and “boomer” or “millennial” being verbalized as the clear answer to why we couldn’t agree. I’m not sure the so-called “silent” generation would actually appreciate that label, as they had much to say ,and what they didn’t say was acted out loudly in their lives at a volume not one of us could ignore, only learn and grow through and hope to one day become. Furthermore, our understanding of technological advancements did not make our arguments weigh more or less. Nor did this understanding, or our disagreements mean we didn’t work together. We ate together, cleaned, gardened, built fences and decks, fixed cars, and helped each other through the easy and hard parts of life. We loved and continue to love in this way, without the eye-rolls (thought someone will sometimes throw out a generational label to goad a parent or a cousin into their own eye-roll and a laugh)
To this day, though the silent generation has only just departed, and there are two more generations around the table, we start our times together in the same way. A prayer for those there and those not – a few of us “forgetting” to let go after the Amen, and continued discussion of how we live in this world and love each other well. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The organization and distribution of our time will be better for having been rooted in prayer.” Looking back, this may be the key to our shared family table, our ability to meet each other in disagreement and misunderstanding, and still, in the end, leave in love.
My recalling all of this after the conference just fills me with questions, but also with hope. If a beautifully broken family with so many generations can sit and discuss their lives around a table, and then go on to live those lives side by side, perhaps we can do the same within our intergenerational workplaces, communities, and homes. Perhaps this coming together would begin to chip away at the lie of generational inabilities which pervades media and gives credence to dismisses abilities and value based on generational affiliation? Perhaps we could sit and share some ideas from our own experiences, perhaps we could laugh and cry and become more human if we had a shared understanding of each generation’s worth and worthiness, but perhaps we need to start in prayer. I don’t know how to do this on a global scale, but friends, you are all welcome around my table, and we can agree and disagree and agree to disagree, but let’s start with a prayer.
Bonhoeffer, Deitrich. Life Together. Harper Collins Publishers/Harper One. New York. 1954
Photo by Markus Winkler: https://www.pexels.com/photo/comparison-of-old-and-new-phones-13796728/
Photo by Nicole Michalou from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/top-view-of-a-family-praying-before-christmas-dinner-5779170/