Expanding Your Intergenerational Portfolio

By: Dr. Roger Landry

“The soul is healed by being with children.” These famous words by author Fyodor Dostoevsky still resonate true to many of us today. Fellow writer, Leo Tolstoy, shared in Dostoevsky’s regard for young people, and went on to found 13 schools for peasant children. Both of these formidable writers were very public about their regard for the special and transformative nature of children, at a time when children were often viewed as a burden – to be seen and not heard.

This wasn’t always the case. Flash back to our Hunter-Gatherer roots, and you’ll witness a different story, one where children were a symbol of survival and had a critical role as members of their tribe. Intergenerational connections were the norm as young and old learned from one another and supported each other. But, when our village structure began to unravel with the Industrial Revolution, so did our lifelong close relationship between generations, particularly between older adults (the historical educators), and their students and playmates (the children). Today, the physical and emotional gap between our oldest and youngest is wide and, as we’re beginning to understand, destructive to both. And so, we’re awakening to the need for a better way … a return to our roots.

The value of intergenerational connection is well documented for children, with less documented drug and alcohol abuse, less crime and violence, better performance in school.

And the value to the more than 40,000 older adults that we at Masterpiece Living work with is priceless. There is less stress, more smiles, more optimism and sense of purpose, all of which is associated with less risk for serious disease and decline, and a greater successful aging experience.

What we have here is a deeply rooted need to interact with other generations for health, for purpose, for compassion, for connectedness, for a sane society. So, wherever we are in our lives, it’s time to examine if we are in the mainstream of basic human interaction.

Two Simple Ways for Generations to Connect 

1. Seek out authentic connections.

Arrange for some uninterrupted time with an acquaintance or family member of another generation (e.g. 15 years older or younger than you). Ask them questions about their lives, being older/younger, and their view of the world. A simple place to start would be to ask, “What’s it like being (older, younger, retired)?”

2. Be a Bridge Builder.

Look for ways to build bridges to other generations. Some examples of this might be helping an older adult adapt to new technology or mentoring a young person starting their first new job. We can all learn from one-another’s wisdom while “healing our souls.”