At a recent convention, my sister and I were interacting with attendees—young and old—as we were selling our new book on personal transformation and self healing. At one point, two older ladies, probably in their mid-to-late 60’s, came by our booth to talk to us. As they were asking us questions about the book, one of them very directly asked,
“Well how old are you two? If I’m going to buy a book like this, I have to wonder if you’ve had enough life experience to give me any advice.”
Like, whoa…really? Since I’ve been raised to respect my elders, I didn’t say what was really on my mind, or mention the fact that I felt her comment was disrespectful. Instead, I bit my tongue and responded,
“I believe that everyone has a story to tell and being able to share experiences that you’ve learned from can always help someone else.” But inside, I felt like saying, “Just because I’m younger than you, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have something important to contribute to the world.”
I’ve seen this scenario play out all too often in every day situations where our elders refuse to see us as adults with valuable contributions to make to society. It sometimes feels like many in the Civil Rights generation are still living in that era, and anyone who didn’t experience what they did couldn’t possibly have enough life experience to wisely navigate today’s complicated world—or advise anyone else on how to.
On the flip side, there are also many in my generation who discount the wealth and depth of knowledge and history that our elders have to offer us. To some of us, we assume that they’re usefulness expired with the advent of cell phones and wi-fi. What can they really teach us if they still can’t figure out how to send a text message?
And this is where I feel there is a serious disconnect between generations. Although I chose not to respond just as rudely to the lady’s comment about my assumed age and life experience (how could she comment on something she hadn’t yet read?), I did take it as a sign that if we’re to leave a lasting legacy for our children to build upon, we need to learn to respect what we each bring to the table—regardless of age.
I’ve come to recognize that each and every person I come in contact with has something to teach me—including my own 10-year-old daughter who I’ve learned so much from. (Lord knows she’s taught me how to use my phone!)
No matter what age you are, I challenge you to look at those around you as potential teachers without passing judgment on what they do or don’t know because of their assumed age. You never know who God will use next to teach you a lifelong lesson. As India.Arie sang in her song Better People:
“I can help you with the brand new technology.
You can help me with the age-old philosophy. Together there’s so much we could do.
If young people would talk to old people, it would make us a better people…all around.
And if old people would talk to young people, it would make us a better people…all around.”
BMWK – How have you navigated the generational communication gap that seems to exist between the young and the old?