January 20th, 2008

ozarque figure

Eldering; about that Generation Gap; part two...

Thank you for all your comments and responses to my earlier Generation Gap post. You've sent me so many fine memoirs and essays. Vivid. Interesting. Compelling. It's been a pleasure to read what you've written and to follow the threads in your discussions.

I'm going to try to ease into this post about the second part of my perception of the Generation Gap as inoffensively as possible, because I have vivid memories of the outrage I provoked the last time I mentioned it. My offending item last time was the idea that elders -- just because they were elders -- should get automatic respect from members of the younger generations.The outrage was in the form of angry comments saying that elders, just like everybody else, are entitled to respect only after earning it.

I'm never going to be able to give up that idea of automatic respect myself, because it's so deeply-rooted a part of me, and it's always going to create a gap between me and the youngers. But I think that I am beginning to have just the barest beginnings of understanding about it. Maybe I can write about it this time without making you angry; I'll try.

When I was a child and was learning that respect-your-elders-always ethic, there weren't nearly as many really old people, for one thing. They weren't around in hordes and flocks the way they are today. And there weren't many elders who had lived long enough to fall victim to one of the senile dementias.

For another, old people in those days dressed like old people and looked like old people. They didn't dye their hair or get botox injections or have cosmetic surgery. They weren't out there in competition with their children and grandchildren every day, obviously trying to look just as young and fashionable and "with it" as those children and grandchildren.

And then there was the fact that elders were, for my generation, the closest thing we had to Google. If you needed information, there were resources available, sure, but they took a lot of time to use. You had to go to the library -- during library hours -- always supposing that you were lucky enough to live in a town that had a public library or a school library. You had to find the right reference book [or journal or newspaper or other source] at the library -- always supposing that it happened to have the one you needed. You had to locate the information in that source, and, since there weren't any copy machines at the library, you had to sit there and copy the information down by hand. If you didn't have easy access to a library, this process could take weeks, and it could involve a lot of tedious writing of letters and waiting for letters to come back in response to the ones you'd written. The only way to get information fast was to ask one or more of your elders, and it was amazing how often they were able to provide it, especially when what you needed to know was how to do something.

Finally, there is what seems to me to be the deepest and most perilous part of the Generation Gap: I think young people under thirty today must have a very hard time not perceiving all their elders as a group called "The People Who Stupidly And Carelessly And Unforgivably Got All Of Humankind Into This Horrible Mess We're In." That's not a good foundation for respect. It's not a good foundation for communication. It's quicksand.

Over to you...