Interaction among generations benefits members of every group

A couple of years ago, on the morning of June 6, I was having coffee with a group of good friends. I was the oldest by a couple of generations.

I mentioned that it was the anniversary of D-Day and started telling them what I did that day. Suddenly I realized that I was talking to myself.

The others were children when that happened, but my memory was personal.

There were three generations at coffee that morning, good friends who have bridged the generation gap by ignoring it. We grew up in different times, but only occasionally did it show. I like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey. The boomers prefer the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the GenXers love Pearl Jam and Nirvana. That’s a tough bridge to cross, but we did it with minimal pain.

Generational scholars have studied the generations of Americans that are represented in our country’s recent history.

Members of the Lost Generation were born between 1883 and1900.They knew both war and depression. That was my parents’ generation.

The G.I. Generation (b.1900-1924) is the one that fought WWII. And it was my generation.

Members of the Silent Generation (b.1925-1942) were too young to fight in the war. They were generally recognized as children of the Great Depression.

The Boomers (b. 1946-1964) are the idealistic ones. (Hmmm. Are the scholars sure?)

The GenXers (b 1965-1979) are individualistic and value a balance between work and personal life.

Millennials (b1980-2000)  are team oriented, ambitious and individualistic.

The G.I. Generation, which is mine through no fault of my own, is drawing to a close. It was a good one. Quoting the experts, “Throughout their lives these G.I.‘s have been America’s rational problem solvers, the strong ones. It was also a strongly male-fixated generation.”

This may explain why the new feminist movement started with a rebellion of middle-age G.I. women against the absolute authority of the G.I. males.

These generational theories get pretty involved, but they do help us in understanding ourselves and our friends in other generations.

I have been learning a lot about my own generation in my years at the Commons. Each of us has had different experiences, different backgrounds. I am learning things about my own generation that I never knew much about — growing up on a farm during the Depression, living in a big city, being orphaned as a child. Nearly every man of this generation is a veteran with stories to tell. Their stories could fill volumes.

But we have become an age-segregated society. This is due in great part to the phenomenal growth of technology and science. The G.I. generation has lived longer than those that came before us. We are slower to accept changes in society.

Sixteen-year-old brains learn faster than 80-year-old brains, and the boomers and the Xers are way ahead of the G.I.‘s with all the new gadgets. I can’t think of a young person I know who doesn’t have an iPod, an iPhone, a Blackberry or another tiny instrument for communication.

Most of them have Facebook accounts, blogs, and they Twitter, causing my friend the philosopher to comment that the boomers may be the last generation to care about privacy. Most of my generation has no idea what they are talking about although, as a gadget nut, I wish I were 40 years younger.  Even my old-fashioned computer (it is two years old) is a mystery to most of my generation.

The lack of contact between generations lets each generation see itself as a separate community rather than an integral part of one larger community. In a time of diminishing resources, that attitude often leads to a sense of competition rather than cooperation.

Temple University’s Center for Intergenerational Learning says that: “When generations come together the results are overwhelmingly positive. We should all agree to call off the intergenerational war, to stop pitting the old against the young.”

One of the greatest pleasures of my elderhood (OK, call it my old age) is my good boomer friends.  We sit around and solve the problems of the world, and of each other.  I have learned far more from them than they have from me.

Maybe Oscar Wilde had it right.  “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.”


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