serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

Intergenerational Dialogue

Posted by Shae Hadden on 10/6/06

On Conversation Street, there are no age limits, and traffic can flow in both directions simultaneously.

Musing on intergenerational conversations today. I’ve always been drawn to talk with people older than myself. Perhaps this is because I’ve never felt comfortable with my peers. I could blame it on the educational system (I was thrust ahead of my age group in school to keep me interested in learning and never really got to socialize with my kids my own age)…or on my own shortcomings (I just didn’t know what to share with them in a social setting). My peers all seemed so much more self-assured than I, so confident about their way of seeing things. And I was just full of unanswerable questions and endless insecurities. I found it easier to chat with my next door neighbor’s grandfather instead of playing in the sandbox…

 

I felt empowered talking with older folks—whether they were adults in the chronic care hospital where I worked or simply other kids a few years older than me. These people obviously knew much more, having lived longer. Their age, it seemed to me, was a definite advantage. I could learn a lot from them… and apply their wisdom. I could then ‘act older’ than my age. A not so covert way to make myself feel, in some small way, superior to my peers.

I entirely missed the fact that I might be a contribution to the older people I was talking with. At some point, I realized that the value of a conversation is the gift of how we listen, and that the older people in my life were always generous with their listening of me. Over the years, I’ve grown and gained wisdom and clarity from being the ‘older person’ in conversations and now try to be a generous listener for everyone in my life.
I’m aware that intergenerational dialogue is, at its heart, about granting each other the space to say anything and have whatever we are saying make some contribution to the conversation.

I’m open to what others have to offer, and I look for opportunities to share what I observe and who I am with them…and I’m fulfilled when I help them remember something they had forgotten, or gently point out something they’ve overlooked or not even been aware of. My words can be an opening for them to see differently, and that is something I offer gently…without disempowering who they are or discounting the wisdom and experience they share with me.

And, always, I offer them the most important gift of all: listening to them in a way that allows them to be ‘heard’ and gives them the space to be creative in the conversation.

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