By Shae Hadden
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
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.