Here’s the thing. We can all sense it. There’s this big rift between younger generations and older generations. We often refer to it as the generational gap. Each generation seems to blame other generations for the problems of the world. Millennials are right and baby booms are right, and Gen Zers just don’t want to be called millennials.
People want to say of the generation gap, “This is the way it always is. Remember the 70s? Each generation has a problem with the ones before it, and when they grow up, they have a problem with the ones after it.”
I have a lot I’d like to unpack with this topic, but today, let’s just look at where the disrespect between generations started (aka where we went wrong) and how we can start to make things right once again.
If you look at days gone by, listen to the stories of your parents and grandparents, and believe what the history books say, it’s hard to deny that previous generations were more deeply connected to one another. It’s also hard to deny that if you look at the exact same sources, we are more widely connected to one another today than we ever have been.
With the width of our connectivity, though, we have lost our depth. We only have so much we can give. So, we either give much to a few, or we give a little to many.
Our world has sped up in the last handful of decades. Now you can get places faster than ever. You can get information faster than ever. You can jump from thing to thing at the speed of light. In fact, you can be in the exact same room as someone and be somewhere totally different. You’re in the land of candy crush while your sister’s watching the latest celebrity red carpet event and your dad’s back in WWII listening to his historical novel on audio-book.
Because we can go off and do our own thing so easily, we find ourselves with this separation of lifestyles. Whereas with previous generations, father and child and even grandfather and grandchild sat together, ate dinner together, and did life together, most of us now live in our own worlds even as we live under one roof.
When lives were more deeply connected and intertwined, respect grew out of intimacy. Did each generation understand the ones before it or after it? Surely, no. But they did respect one another. Parents sowed into their children as the future keepers of the world. Children listened and gleaned from what their parents and elders shared.
So with speed and globalization, we have lost our depth of connection. We have lost the ability to look at one another with respect even if it is without understanding because, the truth is, we are barely looking at one another at all.
As with anything, a solution comes when both parties first learn to step back from their own perspective and view things with objectivity. There will always be work to do on both sides when it comes to maintaining respect between generations.
For the Older Generations
So, older people, baby boomers, adults who have lived and seen and experienced life in its various forms, listen to your young people and encourage them in their gifts.
God’s word makes it clear that age doesn’t limit you, young or old. So, don’t get caught up in diminishing what a young person has to offer just because you sense a generational gap. Instead, foster growth and development. Help young people see their own potential.
Be encouraging and uplifting. Be a guiding light, not someone who’s scared of the younger generations. If we’re honest, we just need some help. I believe that young people face depression and anxiety at unprecedented rates today because they feel purposeless and hopeless and can’t make out what a future for themselves should look like. Whether attitudes show it or not, young people want guidance. They want to feel like they matter. And the more that they get that from the mentors in their life, the less they feel the need to seek out the approval from peers and social media.
And take the time to learn too. There are lots of neat things in the world today that are worth taking up. And young people have unique perspectives on key world issues to share, too. Keep “up with the times” as they say, but also keep your wisdom.
Or better yet, don’t keep your wisdom – share it.
For the Younger Generations
Young people, watch the world around you. Learn to be quiet (both externally and internally) and listen. Don’t be so quick to think you know it all, and don’t be quick to make excuses. Want to know what the weather is going to do? Look at the sky, not your phone. Watch and listen and observe. Slow down. Take in the world. Dig your roots deeper.
Value your predecessors and learn from them. Offer up your thoughts with humility, knowing that your Grandfather who was born in the 40’s has probably seen a thing or two he can offer up. Sure, times have changed, but “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). We face the same issues our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents did, just in a different context.
Trust the mentors in your life. Don’t wait for them to bridge the gap. Get in there yourself and tell your parents what’s bothering you. Call your grandparents and fill them in on what’s going on in life. Humble yourself to find peace in sharing and receiving. Be open to love and be loved.
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But even as you listen and learn, don’t be shy. Be an innovator. Not just online or on paper, but in the real world. Make waves at your workplace or at your school. Bring new ideas to the table. Ask questions and offer solutions. We can all be geniuses in the quiet, but when push comes to shove, we must be bold to bring new things to light. And we must trust that our ideas will fall on the right ears.
There is a special type of boldness that is accompanied with humility. Find that. And live that. Know what you have to offer, but don’t become so wrapped up in it that you lose your way. Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). The more you listen, the more soil your roots will have to grow in. It is from that place that your greatest ideas and dreams will be birthed and that your life will begin to bear the fruits of joy, peace, and strength.
So maybe it’s ambitious to think that POOF respect will be restored worldwide between generations and we will begin to live in harmony again. That’s not realistic. But it can start one home at a time. Be the one to bridge the generational gap and restore respect in your cross-generational relationships.
Everyone is better for it. I can speak from experience. My mom and I talk nearly every day, and I glean so much wisdom from her. But it’s not out of dependence; it’s because we have built a relationship of mutual respect. We trust one another and love one another and grow together. There’s no bitterness there, there’s no rift there, there’s no generational gap there.
No matter what age you are, when you bring yourself fully to the table, respect can be restored. We must bare ourselves before one another to once again experience the treasure of deep connections.
And that’s the bottom line for all: bring your full self to your relationships. It is then that older generations share their wisdom, and younger generations share their ideas; younger generations share their hurts and pain, and older generations offer guidance and encouragement; older generations bring their frustrations, and younger generations offer solutions. Depth is restored to the human connection.
And from that, we all benefit.