My head feels like it just came off a boat ride. My balance is tuned to react to waves, so sitting still has an undercurrent of expected adjustments. This might be because I spent three hours on ferries yesterday on a thirteen hour trip from Cortes Island up in Canada down here to home on my island of Whidbey. The ride was smooth. My internal waves have more to do with my time at Hollyhock Resort on Cortes. Every year some friends gather as diverse a crowd as possible for almost a week of commiseration, consideration, and calls to action about the planet, its people, and our role in the world and the universe. Oh yeah, and it is a good party. Diversity extends across generations and it stretched and shaped every topic.
It is too easy to limit our social connections to reasonable facsimiles of ourselves. Community may contain diversity, but it is based on commonality. The internet has freed the flow of information, but many people use it to concentrate on their favorite topics and have discussions with agreeable people, from a personal perspective. Pittsburgh Steeler fans don’t suddenly became enraptured with cricket matches in Australia. Many conferences and gatherings are based on common topics, otherwise they would be exercises in chaos.
The folks I hung out with for the last week aren’t threatened by a bit of chaos. Some of them actively produce it. It makes for a good party, or at least a memorable one. It also makes for more memorable conversations.
There was a group exercise that concentrated on age diversity. Elders were paired with young folk and we shared our stories of change. What inspired our acceptance of change in our lives? Afterwards we sat down, but organized with the youngest at one end and the oldest at the other end of the hall. Much was talked about regarding the advantage of different perspectives. Comments ping-ponged from one side of the room to the other. A statement was made about the value of generational diversity, which was true, but it revealed a point by emphasizing the value to the extremities of age in the room. A hand went up in the middle.
What about us? The question wasn’t phrased that way. Maybe it was a comment instead, but the essence was the same. What about the middle-aged people that watched the ping-pong of ideas being tossed back and forth over their heads?
I enjoy the group that filled the hall because they do not balk at challenges. Simple social norms are easily modified and the conversation became more segmented as BabyBoomer, Gen X, Gen Y, Millenial, etc. Go find the links on your own because I find them arbitrary.
The intermediate groups pointed out that they are left out of many such discussions. The youth are emphasized because they are the greatest potential for change. That’s always been true and moreso now. Mentoring and other forms of support are directed at them because that is the most powerful way to change the world and improve the future. Baby boomers receive a lot of the spotlight because they aren’t babies anymore. They are the greatest source of experience, connections, and money – though even in such an open-minded crowd riches are talked about with euphemisms. Some of the comments from the middle ages (that’s a joke folks) were that they could use support and that they had much to offer too.
Many conversations reach to the extremes to define the bounds of an issue. It is a useful tool that I enjoy employing. But I am also an extreme independent moderate. I know, am certain, that the answer is most likely to be nearer the middle. Anything that only exists at its extremes is hollow. I’ve found the greatest value in the conversations happening back from the edge.
I sat there quietly. I know that I have much to offer, and that after last week’s DNDN collapse and my personal Triple Whammy I also could use support. Many others are in similar situations. But I kept quiet because I was reflecting on the group dynamic.
As the group attempted to include more people they added the labels I mentioned above, Gen X et al. Each slice segmented the crowd and enriched the debate. Some missed the Sixties and their dynamism. Some haven’t caught on to social media. Distinctions were made around technology or social change. Each slice through a specific date separated two individuals into this camp and that camp, us and them. It was necessary for the conversation, but I noticed that the line nearest me bounced back and forth from my left to my right. I didn’t feel integral to either.
Humanity has been counting generations for generations, but we don’t birth successors and descendants in sync or even in waves. We are a near-continuum of individual births.
Generations are a handy way to describe the general influences of major events: The Great Depression, World War II, The Cold War, The Sexual Revolution, Civil Rights, Watergate, The Collapse of the Soviet Union, etc.
Generational labels describe influence. They do not define individuals.
Everyone has something to offer. Everyone can use support. Young can teach old about new. Old can teach young about experience. And young and old can happen at any age – well there’s probably a line back about the cradle. Labels are abstractions and people are real. When two people connect, it isn’t two generations getting together. It is two individuals, and maybe one consciousness.
In the closing ceremony we were asked to allow at least one of our vulnerabilities to show. We were asked to describe one of our real needs without abstractions. Here I will pass along a simplified version of mine that may paraphrase those of many other people:
“I could use some help here and I’ve got a lot to offer.”
Of course, a little luck wouldn’t hurt. Where is that lottery ticket?
Oh yeah, and as for those waves – the Canadian ferries ride smooth. Do you think a week of parties might have something to do with the room softly settling?