help me think about generations

I’m spending part of my Sunday mornings talking with a group of about 30 people who are older than 75 (mostly). When we started, my desire was to help them have tools for understanding and talking with and praying for their grandchildren and others who are between 18 and 34. It was a noble idea, but I’ve been struggling with what to say.

And then it occurred to me that several of you are in that age bracket or are close to it. And all of you are wonderful thinkers. And I need help thinking about some ideas.

1. Because the old (on average) no longer can teach the tools necessary for cultural survival, what do they have to teach? Or are they irrelevant as far as passing on culture? (Intentionally overstated. Read the explanation)

I think that in the old days (whenever that was) skills and values were passed from generation to generation. You taught your child how to farm or build furniture or can tomatoes. In the process you explained why, you talked about people and how they think. The older you were, the greater your familiarity with the tools of the tribe. As a result, up to a certain age, anyway, there was a rationale for respecting elders.

I think that information and digital technology turned that upside down. Because the basic tools of the information age are information tools, if you are not adept with learning new tools, you struggle. And the new tools are far more different from the old tool than a hand saw is different than a table saw. Saws don’t beget saws. Information begets information begets the need for tools for processing more and more.

Digital natives and analog natives live in different worlds. And in the former, youth is favored far more than in the latter.

2. If I created a project that had different ages talking, on video, about what scares them, would you watch it? (assume decent production, assume strong editing)

3. If you are 35 or under, why do you need people who are 70 or older? What do you want from them? What, honestly, do they have to teach you that you would listen to?

Thanks for your help.


22 responses to “help me think about generations

  1. Fwiw, I value the counsel of the elderly in these areas:

    1. when wrestling with a situation that requires an understanding of human nature (for example, dealing with difficult people). They’ve had a lifetime of experience to draw on, and can share interesting lessons that they’ve learned the hard way.

    2. getting advice when dealing with morally ambiguous situations (‘gray areas’) — again, their experience means they can give interesting advice.

    3. learning about my family and my nation’s past, and realizing that I can be proud of my heritage — I feel a lot more grounded when I understand my roots and realize that I’m part of something bigger than just myself.

    There’s also the fact that I can count on the elderly in my family to always be interested in me — they want to know what I’ve been up to, what I’m working on, and what makes me happy. 😎

  2. thank you thank you thank you. specific clarifying input.

  3. My view from the vantage point of 51 –

    1. My heart would love to hear from those at 70+, exactly what their personal experience is of aging itself…for no matter what generation we are from, no matter what age we are, we will all age. We will all face letting go of our youth – it would mean the world to me to hear in someone’s own words, what it is like for them. From this, I can learn. From this I can grow.
    2. Absolutely. I’d also like to hear not only what scares someone, but what energizes them, what inspires them to keep going, what they are proud of.

    – Thanks for helping me think today, Jon.
    EricaRKrieger on Twitter

  4. 1. It’s the part of the blanket that extends below the edge of the bed that keeps you warm. The youngest generations only know about the functionality part of life. The older generations can teach them the depth aspects of dealing with life. In short: wisdom vs. knowledge.

    2. I’d watch it if it was under 5 minutes.

  5. The elderly are no longer parenting their children, but they can still be examples of healthy parent/offspring relationships. they can give perspective on how we have come to expect a higher standard of living. my parents used to grow / can food when i was in my single digits. how many young people continue to do that? my grandpa was a teenager in the great depression. he could give the “young whiners” πŸ™‚ a perspective on how blessed they are to have so much.
    i love Bud Jacob’s example. he has an energetic spirit. he spoke to the youth group when i was a teenager. he would always say hello to me, other teens, encourage us, tell us he was praying for us. young people need much prayer in an age where they spend more time with friends than family, and drugs,porn, weapons, and transfats are easily available to them. they were young once too. and tho culture may be different i suspect that the similar social problems and temptations remain the same. how did grandpa handle? share what you’ve learned. don’t be afraid to share sins/failures. let them be lessons to the next generations instead of an unspoken past. a teenager may benefit from a common social problem, source of motivation, or feeling that they are not outcast or alone.
    the elderly ought to be quite familiar with scripture. i would want to see the elderly teaching doctrine, sharing how God has worked in their lives, continuing to give and minister as they are able.

  6. My mom wrote an autobiography years ago for a college course. She was in her 50s and I was in high school. Shes in her mid-70s now.

    For her birthday last year I retyped it and had it bound for her and all 6 siblings.

    That document is a string that binds. I cry each time I read it because it teaches me so much about who she was and Im able to relate to her as a mother of young ones.

    So for me- it is the history that they lived. The relationships with their parents and siblings and cousins and neighbors. Its about what it was like to get letters from her brother during ww2. It was about attending catholic school and learning to swim and to stop smoking.

    It’s about deciding to marry my dad and about the birth of each child.

    We don’t talk well in my family. Sad but true. But having that autobiography as a launching pad helps.

    Also, it’s hard to know exactly what to ask- both the young and the old.


    Maine-ly Megin

  7. Erica – to hear from someone, in their words…that’s a very helpful thought. One that helps me with my thinking about ways to share. hmmm.

    and i tie it with…

    …Paul – the 5 minute limit suggests a series of short pieces. And yes, the wisdom knowledge difference, but knowledge…or information…is so pervasive that we have little opportunity to stop and think, to find wisdom.

  8. Matt – the sharing of failure is significant I think. with a generation that values transparency and authenticity, an older generation acknowledging that they are human is huge. The challenge is that older generations have not had that value. They did rather than shared (at least that would be how they would characterize it.) Thanks.

  9. Meg – thanks for the reminder of my dad’s book, doing the same thing. I need to get it out again, now that our kids are old enough to read it and make sense of it.

    by the way, I think that families that share well generationally are more the exception than the rule.

  10. Jon,

    I would definitely watch videos on this subject.

    I took a Family Communication course, wherein I interviewed my grandmother about her life. I thought there wouldn’t be a lot I didn’t already know, but the insights she had could, oddly, translate into the modern day. In the end, I learned a lot. She died a month after I finished the project, and I’m so glad I have that written down.

    I think they can teach us, indirectly, how to interact with people that a) aren’t like us and b) maybe make us feel uncomfortable.

    I think we need to be surprised by the adventures they had when they were our ages.

    I read a wonderful book called “Another Country” by Mary Pipher. It’s an insightful book on this subject.


  11. By the “5 minutes” – I thought you were referring to something you’d post on your website. For a Sunday school class, the length would need to be different (longer).

  12. Paul – actually, i’m thinking both. The shorter would work in both places. What I’m really starting to think about is having generations talking with each other (which is what this traffic is suggesting would be possible) and then using it both in a teaching setting and in a sharing setting.

  13. Stephanie – a wonderful comment. I’ll find the book this weekend. And I like the direct teaching and indirect teaching you are talking about. And I’m really glad the two of you had the opportunity to talk.

  14. Yes to your ideas to Paul in #12, Jon. short pieces, teaching and sharing…Having generational dialog would be wonderful. Since my mom is just 23 yrs older than I am, I’m blessed to grab every bit of wisdom from her that I can. Hearing her perspective on the 30+ generation is amazing. I can imagine seeing others share also would be grand.

  15. Spent a couple of Sundays with the 70’s gang recently talking about being spiritual influencers. I think “relationship” and “story”–two of those ideas consistently woven through your own writing and teaching–are significant keys. Certain cultural components shift and change and become passe’. But truth is unchanging and to be able to influence the youngers in that–well, the other stuff will get taken care of, I think.

    A couple of the commenters here brought up the ideas of relationship and story. I think even Matt’s comment about the little thing of Bud Jacobs saying “hi” points out a huge thing. The starting place for passing on whatever is valuable to the next generation is relationship. Hardly ever is the most meaningful that’s passed on begun with the purely intentional (at least in my experience); it seems like things start out informally, informally (talking with my grandma while we’re out in her yard) and maybe the intentional will finally be arrived at. Even though my grandma didn’t spend hours instructing me on all the names of the flowers in her garden, I learned them because we were there together and I picked up on the fact that that was something she valued. (Come to think of it, the same thing has happened the past couple weeks at my house as I’ve sat on the side step talking with the neighbor kids and they have repeatedly asked and repeated the names of the flowers in my flower bed!!)

    Maybe you should have part of your time simply being sharng stories (Come up with some excellent triggering questions for the storytelling.). When the gang sees how they can do that, challenge them to think of times/places where a meaningful story could be part of them passing on what is really important in life (and I think it goes way beyond canning tomatoes or not being able to send email).

  16. northpointcc

    One of the great stories from my dad’s youngest sister is that she remembers her grandfather (my great-grandfather) praying for his children, grandchildren and any children born to them – that they might all trust in Jesus. My great-grandfather was praying for me before I was born. His children were all believers as were his grandchildren and nearly all of his great-grandchildren.

    True influence comes more through things that are caught than things that are taught. This requires time spent. I don’t remember specific “lessons” from those who have gone before but I remember examples of life-styles, values, and attitudes.

  17. 2. I would watch it. In fact if it had nothing to do with a friend that i think is cool-io i’d still really want to watch it. So i’m not being “nice” πŸ™‚
    3.i can’t think of anyone in my life that is 70.
    63 is the tops that i can think of.
    Besides my grandfather, but i don’t “talk” with him.
    It’s polite check ins.
    i’ve thought about going to senior centers, but really assumed i’d not have a clue what to do, and would just be in the way.
    i’m sure there are lessons to be learned, but i also think it’s about realizing that 70+ have things to talk about etc. really, most of the time they are passed by, or people get irritated because they are slower than the norm. Seniors are the opposite of respected,
    younger folks should be forced to spend time with other generations πŸ™‚
    In my family in Nfld the multi generational living is the norm.
    but i was never part of that because in labrador it was very rare to have multi generations.
    the town was new and young. and i left before it got old.
    i looked for a senior penpal once online. but didn’t come up with much : /
    maybe you could run an option that anyone wanting to continue conversation with those in the video, can contact you to set that exchange up?
    i’d do it.

  18. quiltpunk. For people who aren’t sure anyone will listen, you are saying “yes!” I’ll keep you posted.

    Tom. I agree. But I don’t know how to create time spent. Something has to be the starting point, and the “polite checkins” are a big challenge. Distance is hard.

  19. 1. and 3. I think that the older generation still has much wisdom about the world to impart in the own way. Just because it’s not so closely connected to the world we now live in doesn’t mean that we don’t need to hear it.

    There are stories there and if they are willing to tell them, listening is a good choice.

    The world is hurting right now and our oldest generation saw similar hurting while they were the younger generation. Their wisdom of how to survive that, grow stronger and sharing where they think the keys are, is extremely valuable to those growing up in information age that often comes with a price of fending for yourself as a child.

    I know I could use a little more of that in my life and I’m betting others in my generation feel the same.

    2. Yes, I would definitely view any videos of any stories they could tell, the knowledge would be priceless to have.

  20. Michelle – you make a very interesting connection. There is some work on generations that puts that oldest generation and the millenials (or gen y or whatever) as dealing with similar things, at the same turning. Pretty amazing. thanks.

  21. I know I’m late to the party here, but I just wanted to recommend my favorite book on generational interactions, The Fourth Turning by Neil Howe and William Strauss. What’s probably even more relevant to you, however, is their book Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069.

    They have a really good sense of what makes each generation tick, and 4th Turning even explains why children sometimes feel they have more in common with their grandparents than with their parents.

  22. Susanna – That’s IT. Those are the guys I was talking to Michelle about (Michelle, Susanna. Susanna, Michelle). They have the oldest generation as a hero generation, looking to heros because of being a crisis generation (The other three leaders on their list: prophet, artist, nomad). The millenials? Same. is the site.