My wife and I “volunteered” (we might have been under the influence of a few cocktails at the time so the question of consent comes into play here) to help teach a faith and sexuality class at our church. All kidding aside about whether we were taken advantage of at a time of weakness, I am actually glad we are doing it. It’s a great chance to get to talk with some of the youth in the parish that I don’t know as well (and how better to get to know them than an hour long conversation about the terms we want to use as a group for body parts and “verbs”) and it’s also a great example of why I love my faith: the kinds of conversations we are having in these classes are both critical AND I just don’t see happening in many other faith communities.
What we discuss in these sessions is of course confidential, but there was one exchange that we had last Sunday that I can relate generally enough to keep confidence and explore the point here. It had to do with conversations that the youth are having with their parents. They expressed that although they know their parents are trying to connect with the times and be sensitive, sometimes they can say things that seem insensitive.
There’s a lot here.
One thing this makes me realize is the need for compassion when trying to communicate across generational divides. The older side of course needs to have compassion for the younger side by realizing that what defines them as different generation is a different set of foundational experiences. Growing up in the 70s was fundamentally different than growing up in the 90s which is fundamentally different than growing up now. These different experiences shape us in ways that most don’t even realize and are in fact what makes one generation different from the next. The younger side also needs to have compassion for the older because of this same difference. The things the youth today are sensitive to don’t occur “naturally” to those that grew up in a different time, so when something insensitive is said, the youth need to do some more work to not simply react as they would if one of their peers said the same thing. They need to get curios when they might otherwise get furious and ask what is behind what was said – what’s in their heart? This can be hard and painful because sometimes they’ll find something that is actually troublesome. Some real hate or disfunction. But I think equally often they will find honest intent and this can lead to learning.
And that’s the another thing this has made me realize. That while some portion of generational divides (and perhaps divides of all sorts) is a lack of compassion and willingness to go deep and mutually discover intent, another major portion comes from lack of interest in teaching and learning on both sides of the gap. The older side has to be willing to learn how things have changed and the younger side has to be willing to teach. Similarly the younger side has to be willing to learn from the experience of older side to avoid past mistakes. Both sides loose when they assume that they know it all and the other side has nothing to teach them. Both sides loose when they close themselves off to learning.