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Across the generational divide

The best ways to find middle ground

_COMMUNITY / GENERATIONAL DIVIDE

We live in what feels like divisive times, with many factors putting distance between generations. But look closely and there are plenty of ways Americans are working to understand each other better across age groups. While there are many reasons generations don’t see eye-to-eye—different financial realities, work styles, ways of communicating—there are even more that can bring us together. Here are six ideas on how to bring generations together, based on the latest research and trends experts are seeing.

Adopting a Growth Mindset

There couldn’t be a better way to begin finding consensus than by dismantling stereotypes. Older generations are often seen as having “fixed ideas”. Younger generations are characterized as being self-centered and demanding. One way to bring the two together is by creating a shared goal. This could be as small as dividing up chores successfully on a vacation to as big as rebranding a family business. To do so, each group has to embrace what’s often called a growth mindset, believing that people of any age can expand their views. One way to bridge divides is to allow others to present their views. For example, why not share a book together or watch a documentary on a topic such as climate crisis, education or even art. Allow everyone to present their book or documentary, that way both generations can adopt a growth mindset and learn from one another. Another approach that can be really helpful is to find a creative project such as cooking to learn together. A nice example is how the actress Jennifer Garner recently began learning her mom’s recipes by Zoom and sharing them on social media. And lastly, technology is the great equalizer, letting the older generations learn from the younger ones.

   
MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY


Baby Boomer
N. a person born in the years following World War II, when there was a temporary market increase in the birth rate. Currently, there are 71 million Boomers (ages 55 to 73) in the United States.


Generation X
The generation of people born in the 1960s and 1970s. Currently, there are 65.2 million Generation X (ages 39 to 54) in the United States, and is projected to pass the Boomers in population by 2028 according to the Pew Research Center.


Generation Y
(aka The Millennials)

The generation of people born in the period roughly from 1980 to the mid-1990s Currently, there are 72 million Generation Y/ Millennials (ages 18 to 38) in the United States.



Generation Z
The generation of people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.


“Training people
and educating
them about their
rights unites all
generations.”

Allilsa Fernandez

Being Seen and Heard

A report by Harvard Business Review showed that preventing generational tension is much simpler when every member of a team or family feels seen and heard. That seems easy enough, but there’s one glitch that trips up all of us—how we communicate. We know words matter, but even the pace at which you speak can be a barrier. When younger generations slow down and wait for feedback from older generations, the result is a better understanding and more acceptance. Make a game out of new words or phrases. At a family dinner, where most people have their phones somewhere nearby, pick terms you think another generation won’t know, such as icebox or cow-towing, meme or stan. Look them up in urban dictionary together and have a good laugh.


Sharing Mistakes and Learning Together

In one case study by the Neuroleadership Institute , a 117-year-old company tasked employees with one thing: tell each other about your mistakes. The 700 participants reported that sharing and learning new ideas created a bond between all ages. This can easily be replicated at home—sharing mistakes made in the kitchen or how to shop during social distancing. For example, most of us, of any age, had not experienced telehealth before the pandemic. Now it is becoming one of the best ways to access care. “Talk about being confused about how a virtual annual checkup might go. Or how long to wait for everyone to arrive at a Zoom meeting before you can start a group discussion,” says Diann Wingert, a former psychotherapist turned certified coach.


Co-Caring For Children

Workers who are being forced to choose between their job and their children are feeling the pain of the pandemic. When older generations, grandparents, or older family members step in and help younger generations with childcare, they are invaluable. In the golden age of independence, we are all now becoming more interdependent. That shared work can knit together families and coworkers, even neighbors who rarely spoke before the pandemic.


Understanding Disability Rights Today

Nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have a disability (that’s 1.3 billion worldwide). Young people with disabilities demanding more rights—to accommodations, to fair access to the internet, and proper care – are uniting generations. The common bond? Quality care and respect. Generation Y disability advocate Allilsa Fernandez says the one thing she wants older people to know is their disability rights. “We all have legal rights. Many older people are not aware of them,” she explains. “Training people and educating them about their rights unites all generations.”


Being Compassionate About Mental Health

Even in the best of times, eliminating the generational gap on mental health is a challenge. For some generations, it’s not even a topic that is spoken about. “Throughout the years, there have been different forms of social permission to talk about what doesn’t feel good, or someone not feeling ‘right’,” says Melissa Doman, M.A., an organizational psychologist who specializes in mental health work. “There is even different nomenclature to name what it is people are feeling.”

But no matter what age someone is, compassion and active listening go a long way. “The goal is not to offer advice but to be curious, open to learning, and to seek to understand,” says Doman. She suggests asking open-ended questions and importantly, asking what people need. “Showing you care can be an invaluable opportunity for reverse mentoring, even on such a complex topic like mental health,” says Doman.

Crises have a way of uniting people to fight a common enemy, this one being Covid-19. As we navigate the uncertainty of upcoming months, it is important to come together across the generational divide.

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