Respecting Wisdom Across Generations: A Tale of Two Meetings

I attended two meetings recently. At one, it was the best of times. At the other, it was the worst of times. I highly recommend that those who do not get my allusion to A Tale of Two Cities by Dickens check it out on their e-readers. I also recommend that they keep reading this post because, shockingly, some folks over 60 still have a great deal of wisdom to share.

A very sage friend recently wrote this to me about retirement and being a person of a certain age: "It's a difficult, often bumpy, transition and shocking to be faced with how expendable we are, regardless of the roads we paved. But healthy, also, to be proud of our accomplishments, and move onto the next, even more rewarding, phase."

The first meeting in my tale was a multi-generational gathering. A group of retired educators still doing advocacy work on behalf of children and teachers invited younger parents and activists working on the issue of high stakes standardized tests to join them to talk about some issues. In particular, the discussion centered on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams to be administered in Illinois in March.

What struck me was the overall vibe of this meeting. People were genuinely interested in what others had to say. There was an atmosphere of kindness and caring, and a shared understanding that the cause was far more important than any single agenda. Most of all, there was a tone of respecting wisdom across generations. People listened without interrupting. Their minds were open and everyone learned from one another, regardless of whether they were Baby Boomers or tech savvy Millennials.

The second meeting was a totally different tale. Again, there was a mix of generations. But when the older members of the group spoke, some of the younger folks smirked, rolled their eyes or exchanged knowing glances. It was clear that there was little interest in respecting the wisdom or hearing the opinions of group members who were not part of the "Net Generation."

As one of the older people at that meeting, I feel compelled to share my thoughts about what could have been gained by respecting wisdom across generations. So, to those who think they have nothing to learn from people over 60:

  • History means something. In any organization or movement, it is very important to understand why it started and how it evolved before moving forward.

  • All causes and institutions have values that make them what they are. It is important to maintain those values, even as times change.
  • Listening is more important than talking. You will never know what you don't know unless you truly listen.
  • Respect is always essential to any group undertaking. Without it, trust is impossible. Respect means taking a sincere interest in what others have to say.
  • Working together is always more productive. The preschool I directed was often called a "team of teams." Collaboration between administrative and teaching staff and parents was the key to providing the best possible experience for the children.
  • Not all older folks are tech challenged or unable to use social media. What they don't know can be easily learned. No need to be condescending. And some of them actually know more than you think.
  • In a multi-generational setting, people can learn from each other's perspective. Respect for others and openness to really hearing a variety of opinions always lead to sounder decision-making. Even in our current climate of instant and constant communication and love for the newest shiny thing, respecting wisdom across generations is still a worthy goal. Those folks over 60 just may have something important to contribute.