Erasing the Gap
She sits in her leather recliner staring at the television, which has been off for quite some time. For the fourth time in a half hour she asks me if I want a drink or perhaps some peanuts. Surrounding her trailer are those collectible dolls with the porcelain faces. They fascinate my middle son, Chris. We think he may be the next Jim Henson the way he creates things with stuffed animals and other toys.
Miss Flo begins to tell Chris where she got the dolls and the stories behind each one. Chris listens intently, his eyes and mind never wandering from the 93-year old lady. He wasn’t tolerating her or just being polite. He was genuinely interested in what she was interested in. There was no discomfort; no intolerance. There was no generation gap.
When participating in some functions, one of the things that saddened me the most is the way people divide themselves up into segregated groups. Seniors in one clump, youth in another and middle-aged people in even another. The only ones not sitting with their age group were the smaller children who were forced to sit with their parents.
Now, there is something comforting about always being around people your own age who have shared some of the same experiences you have in life. However, we must be comfortable around those of differing ages as well if we are to grow and benefit. I have heard the phrase “Bridging the gap between generations.” In my opinion that is stopping short. It doesn’t need to be bridged but rather filled in completely.
I despise that word generation gap. It calls for a huge hole to be between my son and I and a crater between his grandfather and him. It separates and divides. Yet, I see the reaction all over the place. Seniors not understanding today’s youth; teens being disrespectful to their elders because they cannot fathom the situations they have been through.
There are different cultures among nationalities. The people in America have different customs and traditions than the people of Africa or Australia. Even within the United States there are differences. The people in Iowa suffer culture shock when visiting Manhattan. However, there are also cultural boundaries between the ages. A sixty year-old will have different views and customs than a twenty year-old.
What builds this chasm that separates the ages? And what can bring it together again?
In raising our children, we, the parents, have to make this part of their growing up experience. Luckily, each of our children is at home around people of any age. Respectful at all times, they have tried to glean what they can from those older than they are while leaving something behind. That is the first place to start. Toss out the notion that those younger just do not know what is going on nor do they care. They do know; they do care; and they just might have the answers even if they do seem a little radical.
There is no denying that there are differences between the generations. There are differing tastes in clothing and hairstyle, food, hangouts, literature and politics. Yet, that is not a good enough excuse for a generation gap. The ages should never be divided because both lose so much. The youth lose wisdom and experience while the seniors lose the freshness that comes with the young. Both have quite a bit to offer each other.
Start by opening up their tastes for various entertainments. Our house plays a little of each style of music and the children are taught to appreciate it all. This is best observed around the holidays when my boys reach for Bing Crosby or Glen Miller singing Christmas tunes as opposed to the more contemporary groups.
We have done the same with movies. They will watch the Keystone Cops with my dad who in turn sits through Beauty and the Beast – over and over and over again. My father has taught my oldest son the joy of baseball trading cards while Nathaniel has helped him with comic books, each one learning from the other.
Activities need to be shared as well. Paul and Ruth had been to every fall festival and family night their church had even though they had no children or grandchildren at the church. They participated because they loved being around young families. “It helps us stay young” was their logic. I couldn’t agree more.
One of the shovels used to create the gap between generations is that of personal preferences. While pulling alongside a high school student with rap vibrating his car windows, my uncle would shake his head and ask, “How can they listen to that racket? What’s wrong with them?” Well, nothing is necessarily wrong with them. Their tastes just don’t mesh with his. However, a whole age group is seen in view of that one vibrating car. The gap widens. Truth be told – not everyone likes what you like either.
One of the reasons this has come about is by sending the children away to play. I despise the adage “Children should be seen and not heard.” How else can they ask questions if they do not speak in order to learn? Allow them to play on the living room floor – quietly, of course – while adults talk. You will be surprised at how much their little ears will pick up when you think they are not paying attention.
Unless the topic is too intense for little ears, we should not rush our children out of the room when adults are talking. I want to provide opportunities for them to be around those of older generations to learn from their wisdom. I still need to be around older as well as younger generations for my own personal growth.
We have to get past the body piercing and colored hair and past the dress shoes, white socks and golf hats to see the real people underneath it all. When it comes down to brass tacks, the outside of a person is unimportant. It is the inside that matters. The generation gap cannot only be bridged but with common respect and interaction it can be erased.