Have you ever noticed how we tend to separate people by age in this society? The young and the old are shuttered off by themselves. What are we losing? How would we benefit by reaching across the generations?
My daughter and I were looking for a place to sit and chat one sunny afternoon recently and found a bench overlooking a grade school playground. Below us, we saw all kinds of people doing all kinds of things, peacefully coexisting. The little kids were playing on the monkey bars. The high school kids were practicing on the ball fields. The adults were hanging out, chatting or watching as they chose. We both commented on how remarkable this was.
Why is this so unusual?
We tend to isolate both the young and the old in this society. We put the children in school and don’t really take them seriously until they’re 25. Our elders live in care homes and senior living facilities, as if they no longer have anything to contribute. In fact, once you retire, you essentially become invisible. Even before then, at a certain age, you become less valuable in the workplace: you’re old, you’re out of touch, you get passed up for the younger, tech-savvy crowd.
But what are we losing?
Bringing the Generations Together
There’s the elderly gentleman who, every afternoon, gets out his walker and makes his way across the neighborhood to just hang out in the playground of the local child care center. The children, all toddlers, love him. They come and talk to him and ask him things and climb all over him. Can you imagine the richness they bring to one another?
In one neighborhood, there was a children’s virtues class that was held in a local family’s home. But the rent kept going up, causing the family to move to a different neighborhood. So then the children’s class had to find a new location. They eventually made arrangements with the local senior center to hold the class in their facility. Now everyone’s happy: the elders enjoy having the children there and the children are surrounded by a whole new group of grandparents.
In Europe, they are beginning to create co-housing opportunities for elders and college students. And everyone loves it. The energy of the students keep the elders feeling youthful and the students benefit from the stories and experience the elders bring.
In Kathmandu, they’ve built covered pavilions at some of the intersections where the elders can just hang out and watch what’s happening. People come and visit with them, bring them tea and just chat for awhile.
There are cultures where children’s work is essential work, valued by the entire community. I’m not talking about child labor, but rather the essential job of a child—to learn. In Africa, game trackers start their training at 10 years old. If you start any older, you never really learn the skills. So 10-year-olds are vitally important; they’re essential to the future of the people.
How do we view 10-year-olds here?
How do we view 80-year-olds?
What Could We Accomplish?
What would our society look like if we really believed that our children are our future? How would we invest in them? What would happen if we involved the children in our planning for the future?
How would our society be different if we actually listened to the experience and wisdom of our older generations? What would we learn?
What would we learn by reaching across the generations and bringing people together?