3 ways to bridge generations

Generations of Women Rollerblading Together

So we were driving along in the family van, three generations of Robertses ranging in age from eight to over 80, when the topic turned to music. My sister-in-law had been to a funeral that day for a young man just out of his teens, and commented that they’d laid him to rest with Green Day’s “The Time of Your Life.

“I’ve always wanted that played at my funeral,” I said, prompting my mother to ask again the name of the song.

Good Riddance,” I replied, using the alternate title of the composition Billie Joe Armstrong originally wrote about the breakup of a relationship. “Good grief,” my mother said, “what kind of song is that to play at a funeral?” My sister-in-law, brother, and I quickly assured her it was an appropriate song about endings.

Suddenly my nine-year-old nephew piped up from the back. “This is the song I want at my funeral.” He held up his iPod


“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road.

Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go.

So make the best of this test and don’t ask why.

It’s not a question but a lesson learned in time.

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.

I hope you had the time of your life.”


“That’s it!” the middle generation chimed together.

“That’s beautiful,” my mother said.

You wouldn’t imagine people of such vastly different ages could find unity in a Green Day song. But maybe that’s because we spend so much time focusing on what makes us different instead of what we have in common. If you’re feeling generationally challenged at home or at work, remember this advice …

• There is nothing new under the sun. The observation from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes is a reminder that no matter how much humankind progresses technologically, humans are still driven by the same emotions as our ancestors: love, hate, greed, passion, envy, lust, rage, generosity, anger, compassion, fear. Don’t put so much emphasis on how an idea is being expressed but on what is being expressed.

You may not be comfortable with newer communication tools such as instant messaging. Or you may get frustrated being dragged away from your work to attend face-to-face meetings when a quick IM would do the trick. Adapt. It’s not worth destroying a relationship because you don’t like the medium. Look for other areas where you can agree. If you can connect personally, you’ll be able to make style adjustments later.

• Engage people in conversation. If you’re in the power position—parent, teacher, boss—it’s tempting to skip the niceties of trying to connect with subordinates who are older or younger, and simply demand they do as they’re told. But if you can gain mutual understanding, your interactions could prove much more productive. People who share your vision will carry out their duties with a sense of purpose, and will come up with ideas that further your goals. Talk to people. Find out what you have in common. Look for areas of agreement that apply to the point you’re trying to get across.

• Say good riddance to stereotypes. Never assume you know how people will react, or what they’ll feel or like based on their age. Not only are you likely to be wrong, but your attitude may be offensive and limiting. When my niece and nephew were about four and five, they visited a family friend who collected classic guitars. As he showed off his autographed instruments, the kids oohed and ahhed over B.B. King and Johnny Cash. “How do they know those artists?” he asked. “Their aunt,” my sister-in-law replied.

Age is just a number. Don’t let it keep you from communicating, or sharing your interests with, people of all generations.


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I'm Deborah, survivor of everything from multiple cancer battles to major business setbacks. Join my search for ways to move the mountains, big & small, that block your path to success.
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