Balkinization of the Generations

I caught an article in the N.Y. Times recently about the major disconnect between the dramatic decrease in the number of serious juvenile crimes in this country and the perception on the part of adults, especially older adults, that juvenile crime is totally out of control. The article pointed out that while youth homicides declined by a whopping 68 % in the past six years, most Americans believe that juvenile crime is on the rise.

The reason for this disconnect between perception and reality can be blamed, at least in part, on the media's obsession with youth crime. Hardly a night goes by that the six o'clock news is reporting on a mugging or robbery committed allegedly by juvenile delinquents. Never mind that the juveniles involved represent only a miniscule minority of kids. Unfortunately, fear sells almost as well as sex.

But it would be simplistic to place all the blame on the media. I submit that there is another reason for adult's apparent readiness to think the worst of kids. For want of a better term, I call it the Balkanization of the generations.

Reflect for a moment on the fact that an increasing number of older people are choosing to live in retirement communities, where they no longer have to share their streets with the young and support their schools. Even when older people do share the same neighborhoods, kids, parents and grandparents are seldom connected.

Teens may be under the same roof with their parents but they live in their own universe, with their own music, their own set of friends and their own language. Driven by pressure to succeed in an increasingly competitive society, parents inhabit still another world. Neither the younger or the middle generation has much contact with the grandparents. With the possible exception of holidays, the three generations no longer touch one another in any meaningful way. We don't learn from one another because we don't know one another.

Where there is ignorance, there is fear. Old people are afraid of kids because they have no contact with them. The younger generation has its own ignorance and its own fears. For them, the fear is of aging itself. Not knowing older people who are role models of successful aging, young people equate old age with loneliness, physical incapacity and

dependence. It scares the hell out of them and, by the way, it does the same to their parents who find themselves getting ever closer to their own golden age.

I am one old geezer who would like to see my peers take the lead in breaking down the barriers that separate generations from one another. We, after all, are the elders, the wise ones. It's up to us to set an example for the generations coming after us. Already there are many in the older generation who are reaching out to the young, as mentors, school volunteers and in dozens of ways getting themselves involved with those who will come after them. This is the kind of pro-active role we can play.

Not that breaking down generational walls will be easy, Neither teens nor their parents are waiting with open arms to drink in the wisdom older people have to impart. As a society, we have all bought in to the idea that our value comes from how much money we make or how many toys we possess, from what we have or what we do rather than who we are. Consequently, the society at large has pretty well written off any contributions that the Medicare generation can make. Like the one time great home run hitter who can no longer catch up with the high hard one, we are perceived as having had our day. So get lost Pops. Big mistake.

We elders should not allow ourselves to be patronized in this way. We do ourselves nor society any favor by allowing it. Life has taught us that in the long run, there is no u-haul truck following the hearse. What matters finally is how we have treated one another and if we have left this world a better place than we found it. That's the kind of wisdom we have to share. If we believe it and live our lives that way, we can be the bridge connecting all three generations.

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