MEEKS: ‘We need one another’

April 24, 2013 

He said, “I have been thinking that I would like to organize a housing complex where older people live in a part of the complex and younger people live in the other part. Each month there would be planned programs and activities and they would alternate between the younger folks and the older folks. So each group would have to talk to one another and learn to appreciate one another.”

He went on to say, “because you see so many of the generation following mine have no clue about how to talk to people and they certainly don’t know how to talk to older folks. They are missing out on hearing the stories the older generation has to share.

You know it has gotten to the place that if you don’t have a Facebook page by the time you are 5-years-old, you are considered abnormal in some way. You know the kids that came up after my generation grew up on cellphones, voice mail, email, texting and social media and have lost touch with face to face interaction.

These words came from the mouth of a 27 year old who can see the vast difference between the way the world was during his childhood and the way it is now for children. It is troubling to him and many others who allow themselves to think about the world that we have invented for ourselves and our children. Most of us realize technology is not really the problem. The real problem lies in the fact that the use of technology has been allowed to become a substitute for authentic relationships with others.

One cannot have a relationship with a video game, cellphone or computer. Neither can conversations on social media about the intricacies of daily life serve as a substitute for the face to face contact that is made between two human beings who allow themselves to connect to one another.

While all of these things can be tools to assist in the enhancement of relationships, they do not have the capacity to serve as a replacement for them. There are too many people in our culture today who do not know how to communicate unless there is a technological device involved.

Mere talking is a frightening enterprise. Listening is even more frightening. But these are two of the most important elements that must be embraced in healthy relationships and they are skills that are rapidly disappearing.

The ability to talk in an understandable manner to another person and to listen so that the person speaking is really heard needs to be recovered. This could be done best by creating viable opportunities for the young and the old to be together.

In conversations about whatever might matter to both parties. The development of mutual respect and appreciation could be one of the best results from such an effort. But this requires the elders to be willing to come forward and to claim that stage in their lives.

Perhaps there might be a builder or two with the courage to create an experimental intergenerational complex or there could be churches that would begin such an initiative in their congregations or some other organized entity where intergenerational conversations could be forged.

Of course there are many factors that have contributed to creating this poor quality of relationships that exist between the younger and older generations, but it is never too late to change the course that is being followed.

Dr. Vincent Harding provides us a great example of ways the elders can work to build bridges to the younger generations. It begins with intention, determination and love. And the realization that we need one another.

This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Email her at kayma53@att.net.

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