Is there value in having communities that span generations? I think there is; each generation has a gift to bring the other.
This value was instilled in me at a young age where I grew up in a small Mennonite community church in the town of Stouffville. Here on a regular basis I interacted with not only my friends, but their parents and grandparents. To me this seemed normal and natural. I would sometimes play with people who were three or four times my age. Whether it was cards or musical instruments, they always seemed eager and interested in my life. One gift that came out of this was a general comfort in interacting with adults, whether they are professors, retirees or presidents of big corporations.
When I went to University I found myself surrounded by people predominantly my own age. The energy that came from this was phenomenal; I found that we would often develop our own languge based on pop culture and our shared stories. There was a natural comfort in associating with people who were going through the same experiences you. As fun as this community was, it lacked diversity. The closer we became to each other and the more we interacted with each other, the more distant we became from other groups and other generations and the more foreign they began to seem.
Now that I am out of University and into the “real world,” I find myself associating more and more with people who are often my parents age. Many of my new friends are over fifty years old and I find myself at parties where I am the youngest by twenty years.
At first this was awkward; we didn’t have the same shared experiences, the same slang. I didn’t know if my jokes would get the laughs the same way they did with my university friends and they did not have the same interest in video games.
They had concerns about money, children and work; all things that seemed at the time so foreign to me.
With time I started to see that we had more in common than I had originally expected.
I found my stereotypes being challenged. Grownups do not have it all figured out, they are struggling to find their purpose and happiness, they have doubts about their ability to succeed and make a difference and they want to play and just have fun.
I was reconnecting with my childhood experience of intergenerational interaction but this time seeing it from a completely different light. I saw them now as equals, that we were on the same road, had many of the same hopes and fears.
At the same time they had a wealth of experiences that they were happy to share. Amazing stories of adventure and of struggle.
I have come to realize that intergenerational dialogue is a gift. It brings diversity and wisdom to a community. Yet in our society we tend to keep generations separate, there are very few spaces where they come together. With separation comes misunderstand and prejudice.
How can we create more spaces for intergenerational dialogue?