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Between Families Between Families
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Friday, January 8, 2016

On teaching youth: An intergenerational, value-based idea

What we lack in our society is not training or education or wealth but the mirror that we hold up to each generation that shows them their worth:
  • the value of youth to bring energy and solutions and push and push until they are realized
  • the value of middle age to see the value of both sides of the coin: young and old, and keep on in the midst of the storm amid all its fury and whorl to see the simplicity of a single moment of abundance
  • the value of old age where vanity takes its leave and we are free to help and simply be with our knowledge.
Our youth are without purpose. We don't show them their value and they are left wandering, disconnected from each other and us, without the necessary means to channel their instinct for change. They used to be the risk takers we needed in hunting and battle. Those with the courage to stand up to the group and say "stop." Those who would stand up to a genocide. Those who would encourage us to walk when we're used to driving, or build our homes from something more sustainable. But we discount their ideas and their energies. We tell them they're young and don't know anything. And that's not untrue, they are without wisdom and sometimes without depth, but it's only part of the story. We educate them in pods of 12 months apart that do not teach them to interchange ideas generationally so we know not how to take their ideas. Nor they ours.

Our adult childrearing population is disconnected from the ancient knowledge and following whims of parenting without a network of supports. Sometimes it works. Sometimes we all get overwhelmed and just let them eat nachos and play on a tablet. Sometimes people are so disconnected they do this all the time. Sometimes as we're engaged in this age, we know exactly how valuable it is. I know I do. I know how amazing it is to relearn the world through my children's eyes. I know how infinitely miraculous it is to hear a bird in the quiet of snow-covered forest floor for the first time, or take off in flight in an airplane and watch the world become grids and streams and stacks below. I know how perfect it can be to fall asleep wrapped up in my children and to find the purpose of that swell of plump just below my belt, as it makes the absolute perfect pillow for my five-year-old. I know that the value of marriage is not merely in safety or security but in feeling the beating heart of a person you've loved for 10 years as though it were inside your own chest as you cleave to each other, not out of need or habit, but out of desire and satisfaction.

And though I know these things, I'd say that I still fall into the disconnected category. I hoard these moments close; they are insular, ours alone. We have made and protected a beautiful moment, a perfect connection with the four of us. But it doesn't extend into a multi-generational community. It is a fragile four, and its wonder is protected by small numbers.

When I was a little girl, I connected to a woman in her nineties who lived down the street from me. She was basically homebound. She could not always raise her hands above her shoulders long enough to even brush her hair. I'm not sure exactly what I sought from the relationship but I was about 8 and would go to her house from time to time and sit and wait to see if she'd tell any stories of her life. She rarely did but it was nice to sit quietly with her. Once we made pasta from scratch and I was terrified I'd cut the pasta wrong and she'd have to do it over again. I knew how hard it was for her but she was very patient and calm about the whole thing. I held back in a way that is uncharacteristic of me except when I am around someone very, very old. Then I calm, and quiet, and wait.

Most of the time, I'm pretty high strung. I have trouble with calm and waiting. I need a lot of exercise and if I don't get it (which is often lately,) I struggle with anxiety and worry and rethink things that shouldn't be bothered with much less analyzed and worried about. I can think of a comment in any given interchange to worry may have been taken wrong or that I shouldn't have said. I can snap with my kids in a way I didn't think I would, getting snippy and bitchy at them when I shouldn't be. And maybe a ninety year old among us would help me. Maybe that generation's value of time and patience would allow my children to calm too.

Maybe the lacking of ego or vanity, the carelessness of age would hold a mirror up to us all and remind us that we are, each of us, are our 3-year-old selves learning the world for the first time; at the same time as we are our 5-year-old helper selves; at the same time as our frustrated, eye-rolling 15 year-old selves; at the same time as our 25-year old adventuring selves; at the same time as our 35-year-old responsible, loving selves. And maybe that age would remind us that we still have selves to find if we just wait...

Those of us who love engaging with young people know something about the value of this particular age. We know how to hear their ideas and engage in the excitement of something new and different with glassy eyes. But maybe it's not simply for us to hear them. Maybe I should take my own advice. Maybe I should teach them to hear an idea, and wait. Maybe teach them to hold up the value of the person providing the idea and consider that that person represents a wealth of ages and experiences and consider those things. Maybe...

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