Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Aging and the Generation Gap

Recently, I decided to think about the fact that, while aging, which hasn't traumatized me yet, I find that younger folk in some milieus feel that the age gap means that I have nothing to contribute to their lives.  I should say that I "feel" this instead of "finding" this.  In other words, I feel that I become obsolete around some people only because of my age.

Working in other entourages, in other areas, age makes little difference as far as having interaction with my younger peers.  I have fun with my elders, they have fun with me.  At the same time, I have fun with my younger peers while they have fun with me.  We all find each other legitimate and significant.

I don't know if it's the gray hairs that poke through my light brown hairs or the fact that I place more importance in other areas than these particular co-workers do.  That is not to say that my focuses are better than theirs, but they are different in many areas.

The office will ring with the voices of the younger ones chattering back and forth with each other, with the public.  I sit in my own pod and have different duties.  I will try to join in the conversation--sometimes successfully, but usually unsuccessfully. 

Do I care that they aren't talking to me?  Obviously I do to some degree.  Maybe it is our focuses that separate us.  We get along, and quite well.  But I'd like to have more meaningful communication with them. 

Maybe my interests were more in step with theirs when I also was younger.  Over the years, some of my interests have changed entirely or have changed in their level of importance to me.  French and baseball, for example, were right up there on the scale for me years ago.  Now, I've been introduced to football and I have stepchildren and grandchildren, which take precedence over the language and the slower-paced baseball. 

This makes me think of my grandparents and other elderly friends who, as they age, feel less significant to others in certain ways.  They can not participate physically the way they used to.  The mind can become more forgetful.  Their wisdom counsels them that such-and-such an activity is not the greatest idea now. 

But they are still significant.  There are still other interests to pursue, or the same interests they currently pursue only from a different angle or deeper perspective. 

Is it possible that our society will slow down a little and communicate better with each other? 

If you think that there are "generation gaps", what do you think creates them?  Differences in interest?  Physical and intellectual and emotional changes due to aging?  Any suggestions for feedback?  --Linda


AskTheGeologist said...

Two observations (long ones... bear with me)::

1. When I worked with a Laotian refugee branch, I was struck at how much deference people of ALL ages gave to me. I felt it wasn't warranted, but several people with their feet firmly in both cultures pointed out that at age 40 I had white hair - and this implied age and wisdom. In Lao culture, this is not just appreciated, but revered. Something between American and Lao culture exists in many parts of Europe and Latin America, and after time spent in Venezuela I realized what was going on. Venezuelans watched American movies and ASSUMED that was what it was like "al norte" - that these films accurately reflected conditions in the US. The unusual reverence for youth (and the cosmetic surgery and trophy wives and trophy boyfriends that inevitably follow) found in Southern California, however, is NOT representative of 90+% of Americana. However, I could not convince either my Venezuelan staff nor my Saudi staff that this was the case. It was my word against glossy Hollywood productions. Nowadays, that SoCal culture is bleeding out into the rest of America, and anyone over 40 has seen the dismissiveness of ageism in varying degrees.

Clearly some people you deal with haven't thought this through - for what they deal to older colleagues now will inevitably be dealt later to them. Live by the sword, die by the sword; what goes around comes around - there is a powerful basis behind these proverbs.

2. When I grew up I was observant of my and others' grandparents. I made the assumption that this behavior and physical condition would inevitably befall ME. I have been mistaken, however, and Madame Elle is one of the best examples of what is now called "rectangularizing your life". The old paradigm was that you reached a peak, physically and mentally, in your 30's, and after that it was a long downhill ride down the railroad tracks without brakes to the mortuary. The NEW paradigm is that with exercise and sensible eating, the curve can be flattened - the rectangle only turns down at the end.

I only wish my grandparents knew this. My Mom and Dad certainly did. My Dad was biking all over San Francisco into his 80's, and my Mom was golfing and dancing into her late 70's when a stroke began (but only began) to slow her down a bit.

The crucial information for all of us became available starting in 1835, and my parents followed my example and gave up cigarettes and most alcohol, and even changed their diets, shortly after I became a Mormon.

Now I learn new things from MY kids. It's really pretty cool - just as Plato observed 2,400 years ago.

Linda said...

Interesting, Jeff. And I think you're right about how the American culture venerates youth, which is exciting, but venerates the toxic parts of its relationship with age. Through films and politics and writing. I know there are great contributions to writing and film and other things that applaud and encourage the youth/aged relationship, such as Tuesdays with Morrie. But those contributions are overwhelmed by the other. Maybe I need to do something about it. I don't know what that would be, but I could think, pray about it because I think it contributes to the decay of our society.

AskTheGeologist said...

You might want to do what Madame Elle is doing: confounding those around her:
1. She took up Jujitsu - and earned a 2nd Degree black belt before her 60th birthday.
2. She went back to school and earned another Masters Degree, but this one in science.
3. This past year she took up a ferocious exercise regimen, and used it to prepare for the Huntsman 140.
She is revered by the sisters in our ward (slightly different, mostly amazed, effect on the men) for not being a stereotypical "old person". Several have told me that they want to be "just like her".

More to the point, her grandkids are extremely proud of her.

Here's what watching her has taught ME: You can break out of any stereotype. Just quietly start something that your grandparents would not have thought of trying. It doesn't have to be martial arts or bike riding - it should be something that interests YOU.

Slowly, people will start to notice.