Last weekend I attended my grand-nephew’s wedding in Maryland. A cursory survey of those in attendance at the rehearsal dinner and the wedding reception revealed that I was the fifth oldest. I and each of my compatriots are a part of the “silent generation,” a term coined way back in 1951 by Time Magazine to describe the children born to parents who struggled through the economic and political chaos of the Great Depression and WW II. According to the web, we are recognized as patriotic and trusting in traditional institutions, and most of us grew up demonstrating high aspirations, often seeking achievement, power and status. And we believed that anything was possible for anyone willing to work hard and manage their spending. Yet, it was commonly understood during this period that children should be seen and not heard, so us kids also grew up keeping our feelings and attitudes inside and not expressing them to others. I certainly don’t agree with everything published by so-called experts online, but these assertions in character I happen to accept, for I see it in myself and others of my age group.
Our generation’s attitudes and behaviors contrast significantly with both those that preceded us, (namely the so-called “greatest generation” that braved the advance of Nazi-ism and Japanese imperialism), as well as those generations that have followed us, from the baby-boomers to gen X, gen Y and gen Z and their numerous sub-groups. Regarding our predecessors, I recall as a young person hearing most of my elders proudly proclaim how they always “spoke their mind” regardless of how it was received by others or who it might offend, as if they had earned that right from their mere years on earth. It seems that as I age the opposite has taken hold in me. I find myself lamenting over having said what should have been left unsaid and often feeling remorse for leaving unsaid what needed to be said. I am perhaps sensitive-to-a-fault to the faces and feelings of others. It’s kind of a verbal dilemma akin to what the Apostle Paul spoke of in the 7th chapter of his letter to the church in Rome: “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
While Paul proceeds to discourse on how the indwelling Spirit of God enabled him to overcome his weaknesses, most of us in the “silent generation” seem to continue to struggle through our dilemma. For though our leanings toward patriotism, hard work, high aspirations, personal achievement and our traditions may be admirable, the tendency to cloister these qualities by our silence is hardly conducive to reproducing in our offspring the better aspects of our generation. In other words, by keeping our strengths to ourselves we leave nothing behind – so what will we really have accomplished when we leave this earth beyond the accumulation of possessions and titles?
In stride with our “silent generation” persona, this past weekend the five of us, (actually six counting my younger spouse) spent most of our time communicating amongst ourselves and rehearsing old adventures; while the “youngsters” carried on amongst themselves. When I thought back on this days later, my flesh wanted to excuse our behavior based on both the physical distance between our home states and the uncomfortable truth that my relationship with my Maryland relatives has never been what it should have been, for a number of reasons. While it may have been circumstantially understandable, it was hardly justifiable. So if any good is to come of my failure to break through these generational barriers, it is that God highlighted this experience as a lost opportunity on my part to plant some seeds of knowledge and hope and love into the lives of these young people.
We seniors have accumulated much wisdom over many decades; so what is it that gets in our way of sharing some of that wisdom? Over the past week I’ve given it much thought and I’m convinced that we’ve been hoodwinked by our post-modern culture, (not to mention our spiritual enemy) into focusing more on our past personal failures than on our successes. We are made to feel condemned by the thought: ‘How can we advise our youth if we’ve made such a mess of our own lives – through a divorce, through a butchered up career, through a bad financial decision, or the like?’ And we fret that our kids and grandkids will not receive from us what we try to share, imagining that they see us through a negative lens. But it’s always a mistake to focus on our frailties. After all, failures are just learning opportunities – for ourselves and for others.
A couple weeks ago I wrote a blog on how trials in our lives are always opportunities to validate what we claim to believe in. A failure is just such a trial and we of the “silent generation” stand on some pretty firm ground when it comes to the traditions and character traits that we exhibit and claim to believe in. So let’s prove it and stop being afraid to share what we believe in with the younger generations. Speak up!
Besides, if we do not provide the wisdom, the guidance to our kids and grandkids, to whom shall they turn? Their peers? Most of them are searching for answers and direction themselves! It’s not fair to stick our young people with such limited options.
That’s not to say that the young people that I became acquainted and reacquainted with this past weekend were messed up. Quite the contrary! In fact I was impressed with what most of these young people have done with their lives, the families they have raised and the careers they have built. But that’s more a reflection of the compassion and grace of God than due to any contribution of some of us, their elders.
It has always been God’s plan that “the grey-heads” of society be wholly involved in the lives of their offspring from the day of their birth to the day we step off this planet. And children were intended to be not just a blessing to their parents and grandparents, but to listen to and learn from their godly counsel. Much of the Book of Proverbs is structured around the idea of a wise father passing on godly wisdom to his son. Other parts of the Old Testaments reiterate this concept again and again. And the New Testament continues this trend by advising fathers and elders to nurture and train their children as well as the younger men in the Church, and likewise speaks of older women teaching the younger and being a good example to them. Such behavior was commended by the Apostle Paul as he described the contributions of the young pastor Timothy’s mother and grandmother in his upbringing. From Moses to King David to the Apostle Peter just listen to their guidance inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6
So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim Your might to another generation, Your power to all those to come. Psalm 71
So I exhort the elders among you,… shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. 1 Peter 5
So to you young people who I failed to provide input into your lives last week I quote from the Christian author John Donne who wrote some four centuries ago, “No man is an island.” We need each other. We may be from vastly different generations, but we can and should learn from each other. Seek out the experiences and stories of those older and more mature than yourself. Don’t be too shy to delve into the details behind the mistakes your parents and grandparents have made. Let them tell you what they’ve learned from those mistakes. It may be a little bit embarrassing for all parties at the beginning – but it has the potential to become an enriching experience.
And to you seniors I encourage you to open up to your kids and grandkids. They need to know that you recognize you’re not infallible. Well – they probably already know it – but they haven’t heard you tell it with a positive twist; of how one, or two, or even a dozen failures don’t mean it’s all over. They just need to get back up and move on, just like you did – and eventually made something wonderful of your life.