Family Conversation

By Jim Selman | Bio


Last evening we were having a lively family conversation about life in general and Eldering in particular. We talked about whether there is, in fact, a ‘generational divide’ and, if so, what can we say about it. To my surprise, my children and my son’s girlfriend all felt that there was less of a divide in the minds of people their age than in the minds of people my age. I asked the question, “What do young men and women talk to each other about that you would be reluctant to talk about with people our age?” What they said is that reluctance to have a particular conversation or to be open has more to do with the culture of the participants than with their age. They all agreed that they are more ‘open’ and authentic in urban West Coast types of circumstances than when they travel to the Midwest or the South.

When they pointed this out, I realized that the same is true with me. I have a lot more ‘ease’ conversing with young people in Vancouver than my father in Texas. I don’t say this with any negative view of cultures other than my own, but as a reflection on me and I suspect others whose ‘way of being’ is more culturally determined than ‘age’ determined. This observation is very exciting since it shows how malleable the world can be when we see something that we thought was an objective fact is instead an interpretation. Another example of this is in realizing that there is a distinction between gender and one’s biological sex. Sex is biology. Gender is cultural. While culture is persistent and difficult to change, it can and does change all the time when enough people are committed to a different view of what is possible and they commit to change or create a different reality.

Another interesting thing that came from the conversation was that we Boomers are a lot more concerned about our legacy than our children are. I asked, “What does your generation want from us?” The response was “Nothing.” In fact, my son’s girlfriend pointed out that one of the most frustrating characteristics of her conversations with older people is the earnestness with which we seem obliged to give our experience and knowledge to the young. “It is as if you’ve spent your whole life learning something and you MUST have us get it no matter what. I don’t know how to respectfully tell you that either I already got it or don’t want it.”  

I doubt it is a new idea that people don’t respond very well or reliably to unsolicited advice. The same is probably true for unsolicited “wisdom”—no matter how lovingly it may be communicated. You cannot coach and I would add that you cannot be an elder for someone who is not committed to being coached or learning from an Elder. I see more clearly than ever that ‘Eldering’ is not about just being older, but it is also a process of social interaction and communication between human beings of all ages. The young people in our family conversation were unanimous in their request that all they want is for us to be ourselves and for communication between us to be natural, open, authentic and relaxed. With some laughter and fun thrown in for good measure.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

0 thoughts on “Family Conversation”

  1. I recently spent an afternoon with my uncle who is soon to be 80. What I most wanted from him was to hear about his life, to hear his stories about himself and other members of our family. I suspect this might be universal, we are not so much interested in hearing our elders expound on what they think they’ve learned but rather their stories. I used to love my parents’ stories, but they’re gone now so I listen to my aunts’ and uncles’ stories. And I try to pass on my stories (stripping off as much of the ‘homilies’ as I can) to my kids and grandkids. The family stories locate us in time and space, give us connection to the world and our people.

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