“Bridging the Gap”

“Torii Hunter was drafted by the Minnesota Twins back in 1993, and his first two spring trainings happened to coincide with Kirby Puckett’s final two years in the majors in 1994 and 1995. As a high school kid out of Arkansas, Hunter soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. Whether it was about baseball or life, Puckett was quick to offer advice to the young Hunter.

“He was my guy, seriously. He was the guy that in spring training he always took me out,” Hunter recalls. “I called him constantly to try to figure out different things. He was there for me. He didn’t have to pick up the phone. He did pick up the phone. I’d call him and tell him what my problem is, whether it’s finances, family or baseball. He was there for me.”

Now Hunter finds himself on the other side of the teacher-pupil relationship as he returns to Minnesota. The Twins signed the 39-year-old veteran this winter after he spent the last seven years with the Angels and Tigers. Minnesota believes he can still be a productive member of the lineup and someone who will get a decent amount of playing time in right field, but his ability to mentor the team’s younger players was also appealing.”

Hunter makes a leaping catch

Being a huge Minnesota Twins fan, the re-addition of Torii Hunter to the club was wonderful news. I lived in downtown Minneapolis in the late ’80s and attended thirty games during the Twins 1987 World Series championship run. I took advantage of the being able to walk to the Metrodome. And having Torii Hunter, one of the really good guys in baseball come back to mentor one of the youngest teams in the big leagues is a godsend for the Twins and their fans.

Unfortunately we don’t see enough of this anymore. In past societies, especial indigenous ones, mentoring and the ‘passing of the torch’ was not only commonplace … it was mandatory behavior for the senior generations. Communities looked towards the preservation of the “tribe” and that meant educating the younger generation to continue the tribal social lineage.

While Torii Hunter is only a generations removed from his younger teammates, mentoring and tutelage can be spread across a divide of two generations or more. There seems to be a natural connection between grandparents and grandkids. I don’t know why this, but often the bond is stronger than between the grandparent and their adult children. Unfortunately though, this ‘natural connection’ this doesn’t often seem to transfer over other people’s grandkids. In fact, much of the time, it’s just the opposite.

‘Young people’ and ‘old people’ don’t have much in common anymore

Racial and religious differences get most of the attention in the media and in social discussions, but the age divide is probably a deeper and more pronounced obstacle. The rapid-fire pace of societal and technological change is seemingly making much of the past obsolete. The value of passing information from generation to generation does not appear as relevant today as it used to be. ‘Young people’ and ‘old people’ don’t have much in common anymore.

Even a couple of decades ago, we saw young people step into their parents or grandparents roles at companies. Older relatives helped younger ones get on with a company, especially in manufacturing. Nepotism on the factory floor was not only allowed, it was condoned and expected.

The work world has changed though. Jobs are not life-long as they once were. There is no guarantee your employer will even be around – let alone your job. The preoccupation with efficiency and automation has rendered job security a relic of the past. With retirement savings shrinking, older workers are more concerned with keeping the jobs they have rather than grooming the next generation to take over for them. Younger workers are often viewed as a threat, and the secrets of the trade are looked at as an asset to be protected, rather than wisdom to be shared. Ivy league schools have even created new degree programs for executive retirees enabling them to transition into new careers. These are exactly the people at the exact time of their life that should be mentoring their successors … not clogging up the professional pipeline.

And this lack of connection (and often animosity) in the workplace has spilled over into our streets and in our communities. Generations don’t mingle. Differences in political views, social norms and technological aptitude have created a generational gap of epic proportions.

And if the economics and technical change isn’t enough, we have unprecedented divide and animus between political parties. And as one would expect, allegiances often fall along generational lines – with the Republican party representing the elderly, the status quo or worse yet the return to “past times behind;” and the Democratic party representing the young, change and the future (generally speaking). The recent fervor over a potentially discriminatory bill against the LGBT community passed in the Arkansas legislature highlighted this. During a press conference Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson proclaimed the issue of gay rights to be one of difference in generational opinions. He also mentioned his son signed a petition urging him not to sign the bill – of which fortunately he didn’t.  Add cable news networks and their political agendas, primarily Fox News, led by Williams Ayers, Ronald Reagan’s former communication strategist – and the waters of the chasm become unnavigable.

Cross-generational cooperation is not an option … it is a necessity

This ‘gap’ has created a lack understanding of each other’s generation. I don’t believe this is the goal of either though. This happens mainly because of lack of exposure and the misinformation it generates. There are few points of interaction between different generations, physical or online. There are no ‘spaces’ where serendipitous social exchange can happen. Even actual polling places in some states are going the way of the dinosaurs. I went into great detail in an earlier piece on the deterioration of the ‘Middle Ring’ and phenomenon of neighborhood connection. Neighborhoods have lost their function as the ‘Front Porch’ of civic discourse – one that neighbors of different ages can exchange stories and ideas – and help each other out. 

The fastest going city in the country is a retirement community outside of Orlando, Florida. And they don’t allow kids. It’s kind of hard to get any cross-generational interaction when you literally don’t even have to see anyone from the generation you’re supposed to be interacting with.

I don’t mean to putting blame on the older generations though. There’s plenty of it to go around. I used to mow lawns in the summer when I was a teenager. That doesn’t happen here where I live. Older people either do it themselves, or when they can’t anymore they move to a place where there isn’t any lawn to mow. I find this odd considering the huge untapped market with the proportionately high elderly population and kids always needing money. I maybe the ‘youngsters’ can’t be bothered. Or maybe it’s the ‘oldsters’ being too proud to ask. I don’t know. I haven’t tried to find out. Apparently I’m part of the problem too, or at least not the solution … yet!

Aside from nurturing the underlying tensions, we are missing out on the ‘carrying on’ of traditions and skills. Look at the lost potential we leave on the table because of all this disconnect and distrust. Once these connections are broken, often they can never be repaired – and these traditions and skills are lost forever. Do we really want this?

Back a hundred years a community had to look after itself, the young and the old. They had no choice. Their survival was at stake. They didn’t have the sophisticated market system of exchange spanning unseen geographies nor live in the relative luxury we do now. They just had themselves. And with age expectancy increasing and the Millennial generation being smaller than the retiring Boomer generation was at this time in their lives, we have a ticking time bomb. Cross-generational cooperation will not be an option … it’ll be a necessity.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Neither generation sees the need or value in the other. What a loss. But fortunately there are signs of hope. The recent Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett collaboration being a visible one. But there are few. And just the fact that it garnered so much attention is sad in itself.

What made this collaboration work is that they had a “shared experience. They shared what I call an “experience world, making music from the ’50s. Lady Gaga stepped into the musical world of Tony Bennett. The significance of Gaga’s effort cannot be understated. But that had to happen to make their collaboration. With her more adaptable mind, she was the natural candidate to initiate it.

I had a similar experience while I was attending college in North Dakota. It was 1980 and my father was involved with a company that marketed and installed solar and wind energy systems. This was during the first alternative energy boom with oil price being at all-time highs. My dad relentlessly pushed me join him in his ‘solar world.’ After a year and a half … I finally relented.

I sold systems with him, wrote an economic feasibility program that ran on the university’s mainframe computer, and even wrote and sponsored a Net Billing energy bill in the North Dakota legislature. But even with this involvement … I was still in my dad’s world.

At the time I was young and my mind was malleable, like Lady Gaga’s. The result was a connection that is still strongly intact after thirty years. And now with the resurgence of solar and wind energy – this “experience world” we shared is once again relevant … to both of us.

Imagine communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority

We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting. It’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more so in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences”were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for“shared experiences:” serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds” – worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And we don’t have to have a Lady Gaga on every corner. We just have to give serendipity a space to happen.

Our communities need to create opportunities for the diverse to connect around a common activity, purpose or goal. And this has to be an initiative much like any other social program. I call this initiative “Bridging the Gap.”  This synergistic approach to the ‘generational resource maximization’ of a community is an integral part of my vision of ‘community based’ societal evolution.

In the next post I’ll let you in on one component of the “Bridging the Gap” initiative … The Kernel.

But in meantime, your assignment is to figure out your own way to “Bridging the Gap.”

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If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

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