Bridging Generational Conflict
Building Bridges #3
A past article from Relevant, has finally motivated me to write about what has affected me from time to time in my life, more so recently: Angry rejection by some, but not all, of a fearful older generation. (Originally written a week ago) My thoughts are derived directly from my comments on that article. Please read first if more context is sought. Although it refers to generational conflict in many churches today, I believe this affects all facets of life in society and culture today and is directly relevant to many other issues facing us today, secular and otherwise. Once again, these are just thoughts, journalling, almost, coming into sharper focus. Deeper understanding and meaning are worth reaching for.
I agree with the premise about fear driving the control response by some of the older generations. I have long been disturbed by the open generational conflict that at times has become quite ugly. To be honest, I am one of those in-between representatives, who at 46, finds himself sandwiched in between the cautious, fearful older generation and the vigorous, enthusiastic younger generations who are accomplishing so much.
I would disagree with the ‘arrogance of youth’ which the author mentions. Some, perhaps are. Most, in my experience, were not. I have seen highly motivated, well-prepared, inspired, humble youth often crushed by the proud arrogance of the older generation, repeatedly. Yes, that proud, cultural arrogance may perhaps mask the older generation’s fear as a root cause. It is more often than not expressed as proud, dismissive arrogance. Everything brought as a strength by anyone not part of the oldest generation is often needlessly rejected out of hand. What is viewed as the ‘arrogance of youth’, is perhaps better labeled as ‘rejection’. Treat someone badly enough, rejecting their input often enough, and they won’t return. Having been silenced, devalued, and shutdown repeatedly, why would they honestly be expected to return to those who have repeatedly treated them so poorly? They have ‘shaken the dust from their feet’ and left, or worse, shown the door. To our shame, this is seen daily in all facets of our society in a public, visceral way. Even worse, it is encouraged and seen as a good thing by those doing it.
Teachers, mentors, students, and disciples all learn from each other through the process of teaching and learning. Those teaching & mentoring learn just as much from their students and source material as the students learn from them. It is an inspiring and challenging exchange based on trust that works both ways – from teacher to student and student to teacher. The direct analogy being from the older generations to the younger generations, and the younger generations to the older generations.
Respect and trust are two way streets. I do respect, honor, and trust the older generations and what they can teach. However, I see precious little in the way of love, respect, honor, or trust from the angry, fearful, arrogant older generations to the younger generations. Honestly admitting error and learning from it is part of maturity and leadership. Stubborn, angry, intolerant, arrogant refusal to admit any mistake from both the older and younger generations compounds the error, reinforcing rejection, disrespect, and distrust.
As I begin to move, in my personal life, from the position of an adult child to what may turn into becoming a caretaker of my parents, I still respect, honor, and trust them. They also, respect, honor, and trust my judgment in seeking my counsel as I answer their questions, sharing my knowledge and experience with them as they still seek to learn. We usually manage to understand each other. It is something that in some ways surprises me, but in others ways does not. Love and respect tend to engender love and respect in reciprocation. It also motivates me to work even harder to get whatever I am working on right. Will I make mistakes? Yes. Have I made mistakes? Yes. Will I continue to do so? Yes – but so will those both older and younger than I. Gracious respect from all living generations to all living generations is required.
I pray and wish that others would learn from my own parents’ example. We have & continue to admit our mistakes as we realize them, sometimes with a little loving prodding. We try to learn from our mistakes through forgiveness looking forward, not back. We don’t reject each other out of hand. We enjoy a richer, deeper, more honest and rewarding relationship today because of it. By definition, we are different. We will not be the same, nor will we always make the same choices. Our differences are what makes us stronger together. Even though they may not make the same decisions or choices we have and continue to make, they trust we are as grounded in our daily walk as they are. We do so, boldly, walking as strangers through this strange land, in strange days, in a place no longer recognized by the generation that just might be leaving us all too quickly. It is no longer a familiar place for my parents. It is neither a better nor worse moment or place we find ourselves in today, as we strive to avoid romanticizing or idealizing a past that never existed. We have not been given a spirit of Fear.
This is in essence a problem that is defined by differences, and fear of those differences. Any attempts to cast one over another in this discussion as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ forces, by definition, an adversarial approach. This will breed division with resentment. Mediation, understanding, respect, and humility by all living generationsfor all living generations can begin to bridge this gap. Many other communities, countries and cultures do this extremely well. Why can’t we?
Understanding, respect, and acknowledgment of each generations’ unique contributions will begin to allow the breach to be closed. Civility and humility can be disarming. The question is: will all affected be willing to seal the breach and work together? Perhaps not. If not, then refraining from denigration and condemnation would seem to be in order, replaced with blessing and honor if paths diverge.
I pray for more bridges to be built by all generations to each other, not angrily burned in fear or rejection by the generations before me or after me. We need more bridge builders to each other, not bridge burners, or as my Grandmothers would say: ‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater’.