by Michael Goodman
In an age of individualism and isolation, both young and old are increasingly being left to fend for themselves with little or no recognition of the needs of the other.
If we are to look forward to a brighter future, then there has never been a more important time to find ways of bridging the generation gap.
When the more “mature” among us dismiss the youth of today as being disrespectful, rude, inconsiderate, constantly cursing and always on their mobile phones, we run the risk of further alienating an already disconnected generation and disenfranchising the many young people who do not deserve to be labelled in that way.
So, if we are looking for respect from a younger generation many of whom have been brought up in an atmosphere where it is no longer a given, then we have to re-earn it rather than demand it. We also need to acknowledge that as we get older, we can become narrow minded and less tolerant, so we need to open ourselves up to the possibility that there may actually be an immense amount that we can also learn from those much younger than ourselves.
We complain that young people never listen to what we have to say. But are we not equally guilty of not listening to what they have to say? With the wisdom that supposedly comes with age, why can’t we be the ones to take the first step in breaking down the generation gap just by listening?
And if listening is the first step, the next must be offering support and encouragement, especially to those young people who are making a real effort to get on in life.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of encouraging and supporting young people. It gives them a sense of achievement; it builds self-esteem; it makes them feel that their efforts are worthwhile, and gives them the incentive to work harder and do more because they want to, not because we keep telling them that they should.
There are thousands of young people out there who would benefit enormously from an encouraging word, a supportive gesture, some recognition of their efforts, and perhaps even a little gently offered advice.
A non-critical approach, together with showing an interest and genuinely listening to what the other person has to say, lies at the heart of successful communication with the younger generation.
Ideally, we should start by enthusiastically highlighting the positive aspects of whatever they have achieved. Then, if appropriate, find a way to explore, together, ideas that might help improve the process or the outcome, being sure to offer suggestions tentatively rather than stating them with authority, and always inviting the other person to contribute their own thoughts on the subject while we genuinely listen.
You may be surprised to discover that some of their ideas are even better than your own! But the moment you start to criticise, the other person will either close down or become defensive, signifying that you have lost everything and gained nothing.
As older people, we know we have a great deal to offer. But we’re not the only ones. Let us encourage and support the enthusiastic, energetic, talented and resourceful youngsters in our midst. We need to play our part in bridging the generation gap. If we succeed, it can only benefit society as a whole and brighten our future.
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