Bridging The Generation Gap

“Torii Hunter was drafted by the Minnesota Twins back in 1993. 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.”

More than two decades later, Hunter found himself on the other side of the teacher-pupil relationship as he returned to Minnesota. The Twins signed the 39-year-old veteran a few years ago after he spent the last seven years with the Angels and Tigers. Minnesota believed he could still be a productive member of the lineup and someone who would get a decent amount of playing time in right field; but his ability to mentor the team’s younger players was also appealing. As it turned out, Minnesota developed one of the most accomplished young outfields in the game … with no small assist from Torii Hunter.”

Hunter makes a leaping catch

Being a huge Minnesota Twins fan, the re-addition of Torii Hunter to the club was wonderful news at the time. I used to live in downtown Minneapolis in the late ’80s and could walk to the Metrodome, the Twins home field. and During the Twins 1987 World Series championship run I must have attended at least twenty games; 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, was 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 expected from the senior generations. Communities looked towards the preservation of the “tribe” – and that meant educating the younger generations to continue the tribal social lineage.

While Torii Hunter is only a generation 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

The media gives racial and religious differences most of the attention; but the age divide is probably a deeper and more pronounced obstacle to societal unity. The rapid-fire pace of social 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 large companies or family-owned businesses. 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. I’m not saying this is bad or good – just saying. The preoccupation with efficiency and automation has rendered job security a relic of the past. With apparent retirees being able to work into older years, they 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, who should be mentoring their successors … not clogging up the professional pipeline.

If economics and technical change isn’t enough; we have an unprecedented 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, progressive change and the future (generally speaking). Cable news and social media, intentionally or not, has fueled this disconnect. We don’t have a common source of information as we did in thirty years ago. Age often creates a basis for a group think that provides the breeding ground for fervent differences. Crossing the chasm of these “different worlds” has become a daunting undertaking.

_________________________________

Cross-Generational Cooperation Is A Necessity

This “gap” has created a lack understanding of each other’s generation. I don’t believe it is the goal of either though. This happens mainly because of lack of exposure of each other 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 election 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 furthering the underlying tensions, our lack of cross-generational engagement is causing us to miss 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 and GenZ generations 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.

Neither generation sees the need for or value in the other. What a loss. But fortunately there are signs of hope. A few years ago Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett broke rank and joined together on one of the most memorable musical endeavours of the decade. But this was the exception. And just the fact that it garnered so much attention is sad in itself. That said, just this year Billie Eilish, with the release of her chart topping album. “Happier Than Ever”, updated the definition of ’50s torch singer for 2021. The connective tissue is there – it’s just very frayed.

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 and ’60s. Lady Gaga stepped into the musical world of Tony Bennett. The significance of Gaga’s effort cannot be understated. 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 in the ’80s is once again relevant … to both of us.

_________________________________

Making “Shared Generational Experiences” 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 away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create environments nurture these connections.

At present the generational connections that are being made might not be the ones that produce the most positive engagement. More and more elderly are wanting to “age at home” (for a plethora of good reasons). It’s the type of care for our elders our society should aim for. That said, our institutional healthcare malaise of patchwork quasi-solutions is poorly equipped to handle this. Instead the “caring” falls on unpaid family members. These family members are normally a generation, if not two, removed and are in the prime of their life – at least in theory under better circumstances. Too often the caregivers sacrifice their career, not to say their own hopes and dreams to care for an aging parent. In a Perfect World, we would have institutions that were part of the solution here. Seldom is that the case. So instead of of having positive “shared generational experiences”; we create negative shared experiences. The “passing of the torch” involves more the burning of emotional bridges creating the bonfires of exhaustion, and caregiver mental and physical decline.

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

Imagine if we lived in communities where positive “shared generational experiences” were a priority; where these experiences were shared while the relationship could still be reciprocal. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for serendipity between the young and old. These opportunities would be breeding grounds where roles of mentee and mentor where interchangeable. 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. 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 a community-based societal evolution.

Make it mission to identify opportunities. Focus on obliquity (indirect benefit) where the goal of the opportunity is not primarily to “bridge the gap”; but rather to accomplish a more tangible community-oriented goal – such a start and run a community garden or build a elementary school playground. Intentionally direct promotional campaigns to solicit participation from multiple generations. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel either. Your community may have many excellent neighborhood projects in operation or in the pipeline right now that would be perfect candidates for cross-generational engagement. They just need to be treated as opportunities for exactly that. To do that – your community is going to have to build a marketing platform, whether it be old school or automated, to target the venues where your preferred participants frequent (e.g. senior centers and libraries for seniors; and schools and pop culture events for younger generations). Not only will your community increase its participation for its civic grassroots volunteer solutions – it’ll create societal norms and expectations of cross-generational cooperation and collaboration. The tangential benefits of this phenomenon are vast.

image-1

_________________________________

We are staring at unprecedented challenges, both here in America and abroad. The COVID pandemic is nowhere near to being over and our efforts at combatting it are being held hostage by hardened anti-social views rooted in ideology unrelated to the disease itself. As their houses burn in the middle of a 100 year drought or blow apart from annual hurricanes; a good portion of the population still won’t accept the cause just might be climate change and our habitual destruction of our environment. These beliefs are also based in unrelated political ideology, not scientific reason.

Our attempts to “get on the same page” have failed miserably; while our politicians usher in a modern day reincarnation of Nero – fiddling as they only concern themselves with their privilege. It’s up to each of us to do our part to build the bridge over the generation gap that has fueled much of this societal fire. Connecting those of age in power, those who have little stake in the future – with those who must endure it for decades … will be how we accomplish it. 

_________________________________

Recent Conversations

One thought on “Bridging The Generation Gap

  1. Thanks for the article. As you know, I’ve supported organized, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs for over 40 years because of the way they connect people of different generations and different backgrounds and experiences with each other, in on-going interactions. I maintain a web library pointing to several hundred youth serving programs in Chicago and around the country, and the world. Many of the models and organizing practices of these programs could be duplicated in any community. It just needs a few people to take the lead. Building the information platform and doing the on-going communications and outreach is an essential step.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s