A Look From Both Sides of the Generation Gap

‘Listen to your elders’ was my first thought when I read a Facebook meme the other day that asked, “What 4 words would you tell your 17 year old self?”  That thought was immediately followed by another thought that said, “Your 17 year old self would never have listened.  You’re too old to talk to him.”

generation gap; thunder vs. lightning

Selena and I went to church yesterday in Lacombe, Alberta.  It is the ward we attended when we lived here 10 years ago.  Since it has been so very long ago that we attended here, it is no wonder that I would wander into the wrong room for my priesthood meeting.  I probably sat there for a full ten minutes before I realized that most of the men in the room were at least 15 years my senior.  After chastising myself for having a lack of simple observational skill, I decided that the least disruptive thing to do was to just stay where I was.

It is quite likely that the lesson that I would have been privileged to participate in (had I found my way to the correct classroom) would have been the exact same.  Same lesson; same book, but when the title of the lesson is ‘The Elderly in the Church’, can it get any better than just sitting among them?  It was like Sensurround® courtesy of the High Priest Quorum.

old people sign; generation gap

This lesson was about the role of the elderly in the family and in the church.  How we should appreciate the experience and wisdom of our old folks.  So as the younger men monopolized the discussion, and the older men dozed off, I began daydreaming about being in a tropical paradise with my hot wife…

Ha!  Just jokes.  Wanted to see if you were paying attention.

It was actually a very good discussion with thoughtful comments and everyone participating.  But my mind did begin to wander.  The teacher asked someone to tell a story of a time when he was given counsel by an older person and what it was like for him.  As the man began to tell his story, I found myself unable to relate, and soon, a million miles away in thought.

Oddly, this same thing happened to me a few weeks ago.  In a similar meeting, with similar circumstance.  A man in my ward began to tell a story, in which he was talking to his father about a problem that he was having.  He was about 17 years old, the youngest of 10 children.  His father was an older man, maybe in his 60’s.  He spoke of how when he would be working with his father (a former bishop), that his father would begin a conversation with him.  He said that his dad had a way of getting him to talk about anything that was on his mind and how, “…there was nothing that [he] was afraid to talk about with [his] dad.”

I regret to report that I have no idea what was said after that sentence was spoken.  In both instances, my mind began to search the vast archives to find a story in my history that would relate.  In both experiences, I left the meetings to continue pondering these things for the rest of the day.  I don’t believe that it is mere coincidence that this has happened to me two times in a matter of only a few weeks.

Certainly I’m not the rare exception.  In my circle of friends, we spent most of our time making sure that our parents were in the dark about all of our activities, that was a given.  To contemplate sharing our thoughts with the parental units represented an even higher betrayal to teenager-hood.

defiant boy; generation gap; attitude

My thoughts though, took me beyond simple teenage rebellion.  I had an odd belief as a child and I’m not quite sure where it came from, or when I had finally forsaken it.  I believed with all my heart that grown people had exhausted all the fun there was to have in life. Any advisement that I received from one of their kind was to be considered suspect and simply an effort, on their part, to deprive me of my right to fun.  I remember telling my father once, as he was trying to prevent me from making a huge error in judgment, “You admit that you did the exact same thing at my age?  So what are you now, a hypocrite?  I’d rather be anything than be a hypocrite.”  I can only imagine the frustration of my father as he looked at my smug mug glowing from, what I considered to be, superior debating skills.

I was even more cynical when it came to the elderly.  It seemed to me that every old person that I knew, was a church goer.  The malfunction of my brain had convinced me that old people were only ‘religious’ for one reason:  They were hedging their bets.  They knew that their time was winding down and they wanted to be in good with God before their time was up.  In my mind they had no greater assurance of the existence of God than I did.  Again, all hypocrites.

Time proved the fallacy of many of my beliefs.  Over the years I have met plenty of elderly people who had no desire to cozy up to God for a last minute appeal for salvation.  In fact, I’ve met some who seemed to have a downright disdain and hatred for the god they say doesn’t exist.  Yet these same elders will still offer up counsel to the younger generation about the way certain behaviors can cause a person grief.  No doubt some of these old folks can give faulty advice, but it still remains, their motive isn’t to cheat anyone out of having a good time.  It’s seems many of the elder generation have a genuine desire to help the younger avoid the pitfalls of fast living.   Repeated witness of this phenomenon over the years has proven my youthful theory, like so many of my other youthful theories, to be full of holes.

generation gap; old lady talking to boy with mohawk;

As for trying to warn children as a parent of the consequences that some behaviors can bring—I have a totally different perception of that look on my father’s face.  It wasn’t just anger (although I’m sure anger was the dominate emotion), it was also fear, disappointment, and frustration.  I have looked into the eyes of my child (children) and thought, “Can I not speak, or can he not hear?”  The barrier between me and my precious child is palpable and yet I know full well that it is imaginary, because I have to resist the nagging compulsion to reach out and smack him.

I hate to disappoint anyone who has followed me through this odyssey of thought waiting for the moment that I would reveal the long anticipated solution to what has been commonly called ‘The Generation Gap’.  Ha!  Generation Gap.  The definition of that word to my generation meant ‘we’re too hip for you to understand’.  Luckily we owned that particular terminology; we now realize how stupid the definition was and we let it die with some other groovy jargon from the 60’s and 70’s.  Whatever it is, it’s real and wisdom born of experience tells me that it cannot be overcome, at least not completely.

What I know for sure is this:  no matter where the standard for acceptable behavior is set, human beings will fall short of the mark.  If set as a high standard, most people will not meet the best mark.  If you set the standard low, it likely that some will meet and even exceed the mark, but many, many more will not even meet the low bar.  So it’s important that we have expectations that encourage us to be our very best.  If called upon in life, as a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, coach, or otherwise as a mentor to a young person, we should not shy away from big expectations.  Young people will often bleat like little lambs when anything is expected of them.  Why not make it worth the grief?

I also know for sure that there is no tried and true method in the history of man that will overcome what sometimes appears to be an impenetrable wall to communication between the youngsters and the oldsters.  How many of us have witnessed the dynamic of a family, with say 5 children, and four of the children do real well in life, but that one seemed to be on a collision course from the moment he began to walk? “Such a nice family, how did that one end up in jail?”

It goes the other way too.  The whole family is a wretched mess, but that one child overcomes all the obstacles to become someone that everyone is proud of.

artistic man showing child the way; generation gap

It could be because this line of thinking began and ended in a priesthood meeting, on both occasions, that I arrived at the same point.  I try not to have regrets in life, believing that all of our experiences serve a purpose, but I do lament that I was such a cynic.  As an adult, I have had several mentors.  Men of experience; men of letters.  I have respected them for their accomplishments, but I have mostly appreciated them for the way they conduct themselves every day; their example.  Until I know of a better way to communicate with the younger generation I’ll let this be my guide:  I’ll be the best example that I can be, and those that will hear, will hear.  I believe it was in a conference talk that I heard a remark that put things into perspective.  The speaker said that even the best father of all, our Heavenly Father, lost a third of his children.

Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

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