Between two generations

I relate to two groups of people: the “older” generation and the “newer” generation. While age is often the obvious separator, I’m emphasizing mindset on this because I’ve met people that could easily fall under the older category but they don’t, and vice versa.

The main arguments I hear are on (1) climate change, (2) gender pronouns and (3) mansplaining. Essentially, the older ones don’t get the urgency of climate change (that we can’t wait for the next generation to fix it), they can’t wrap their heads around the “plural-ness” of they/them as a singularity, and the male counterparts don’t see mansplaining.

The new generation/ mindset has no patience for any of it.

I find it simultaneously funny and frustrating at the same time.

When I was in my twenties and newly married, I became a daughter-in-law and grand-daughter-in-law, and this is where I first saw the generational issue from a more neutral perspective. The frustration that my mother-in-law had with my grandmother-in-law was palpable, though I am pretty sure she thought she was completely undercover with it. My mom-in-law had progressive thoughts, and my grandmother-in-law, absolutely a product of her generation, would say things like, “A woman works for only one of two reasons: she is looking for a husband, or her husband can’t take sufficient care of her (read: doesn’t make enough money).” Since I was married to her grandson, I wondered why she thought I worked. Still, she made me laugh. My mother-in-law, however, got crazy uptight about it.

I adored Grandma Helen for her eccentric ways and old-fashioned notions, and I respected my mother-in-law whom I related to as a woman closer to my time.

That said, I eventually saw that my mom-in-law was stuck in her own ways. She made her conclusions about life and there was really no wiggle room. Her glass was full. I came to see the generational pattern as I became aware of my own judgments about her, and I made a mental note to myself to be aware of this as my children grew to become the new generation and I the old.

We don’t practice patience and understanding for each other. We don’t seem to get that everyone is doing their best with the tools they were given. It’s like when a classic oldie comes on after a string of newer genres, and the older person says, “now this is music!” And we know very well that their parents did the same thing. This simple statement is a loaded one, and the generations offer up loaded statements all the time, both ways.

The kids always have a point, and we could argue that they are right. Mansplaining does happen, and it’s annoying. We can not wait for the next generation to do something about climate change. When we are referring to a single individual, it is now very very possible that we might hear that “they on on their way.” And while some people reject all these things because they are outright stubborn, many others really are trying, and they are just having a difficult time wrapping their heads around them. Those that are trying ask what some members of the newer generation deem to be “dumb questions” that are too far from the mark to warrant an explanation. The slow-to-catch-on won’t see them any faster by making them feel attacked and disrespected. If we want them to join in the understanding, we need to see them as well. We need to understand that they may not be able to get it for a while. That they do seep in if we don’t give them reason to wall up.

Everyone wants to be seen, heard, and understood, and until we stop treating this like a zero-sum game, we won’t get to where we really want to go. Being right doesn’t change things. Being understanding does.

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