The following guest article is by my friend, Ashley Mowers. I invited Ashley to respond to last week’s article on generational differences for reasons that will be immediately obvious. Ashley is Community Life Architect at National Institute for Community – Community Life Program. She is also an adjunct professor at Judson University and she begins working on a Doctor of Philosophy at St. Andrews University in Scotland next autumn. You can follow Ashley at any of the following:
Last Tuesday The Rev. Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt wrote a piece on changing the way generational differences are approached. I was grateful for his thoughts, especially after too many think-pieces aimed at burning rather than building bridges. Something that continues to stick out to me regarding inter-generational interactions aren’t so much differences of perspective, however, but rather varying levels of willingness to demonstrate respect and patience from older generations to younger generations. What I would like to do is combine Father Fred’s first and fifth points into a larger thought about communication.
I teach communications courses to college students, so it’s inevitable that I would entirely agree that patient listening and observation are critical to “bridge the generational divide.” It’s lesson #1 I give my students: Communication is, first and foremost, audience-centered. I first encountered this perspective as phrased through the work of Steven A. Beebe and Susan J. Beebe, whose book The Public Speaking Handbook is the textbook I use in my own public speaking class. While it’s simple in concept, it’s remarkably difficult to put into practice, especially if one feels they have earned the right not to.
I consistently push my students to identify their audiences and learn how to communicate with them in mind. It’s an excruciatingly sacrificial practice, but increasingly important in times of great fear and stress. I would say it is inherently Christ-like to put aside my own agenda to better understand and value my counterpart. While I have yet to hear anyone disagree with me outright on the validity of this, I very rarely see this demonstrated by those in positions of power, comfort, or privilege. They may agree with the idea enthusiastically, but because they imagine themselves in the place of being wronged, rather than wrong-doer. (Speck, meet plank.) I’ve made this mistake time and time again. It is incredibly easy to do. Of course, when you successfully do so, the person across the table from you is most determinedly not reciprocating.
For example, I had once attended a dinner in which someone at the table despaired about the “extension of adolescence” and “lack of maturity.” The rest of our company emphatically agreed, leaving my husband and I feeling dismissed and betrayed. These were the same people that had previously waved away my fear about being seen as a “lazy millennial.” (I was told that they “could tell which ones were the good ones.”) We both found ourselves stuck in an exhausted silence. While I wish I had willed myself into asking them for clarification, gently requested evidence, or where this fear came from, I also exceedingly wish they had considered their audience, or at least considered us a part of it.
Sometimes, younger generations are given space to provide a counter-point.
Sometimes we’re looked at expectantly, as if we will be the rare “good ones” that will validate their fears, bemoaning our own generation.
And then, sometimes, they don’t look at us at all.
There are, of course, those who manage to successfully navigate relationships with their youngers. When Father Fred responded to my observation about the piece on literacy, he recognized my opinion, validated* it, and followed it up with an additional, parallel observation. In improv, this would be called “yes, and-ing.”
If applied exclusively, it’s hardly a productive method for all conversations, it invites and facilitates participation from all present, not just yourself. Instead of seeing youngers as adversaries, “yes, and-ing” allows for an equitable pursuit of healthy understanding.
Of course, not all conversations involve agreeable topics. Consider the following steps:
- 1. Do you agree with your conversation partner? “Yes, and,” them.
- 2. Do you disagree? Ask a question for clarification, the follow up with why you may or may not agree, still leaving open the possibility that you may be, in fact, wrong.
- 3. Are you confused? Try to clear things up. Respond with some active listening skills: resort, rephrase, repeat. “What I’m hearing you say is…” and rephrase what you’ve heard using your own words. This helps clear up any potentially damaging miscommunication.
If you still feel like there is something corrective that needs to be said, consider the process of self-analysis I use before speaking:
- 1. Does this need to be said?
- 2. Does this need to be said by me?
- 3. Does this need to be said by me right now?
Again, this may seem like common sense. Yet I am continually astounded by those who decide against it. A lot of millennials are fatigued by the constant series of “lovingly corrective” conversations that only go one way. Countless are the times that James 1:19-20 has been used to silence me, only so I may have the privilege of enduring another lecture about how my generation is killing [insert industry here]. If our priorities and values confuse you, (which according to this study, they shouldn’t) ask us! According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, Millennials are the most connected and flexible generation to date. We love new perspectives; we just don’t want to be force-fed.
So please, quit with the hot takes. Enough with the snide remarks and the general fear that we don’t suffer enough. We want relationship with you. We just don’t want relationship at the cost of dignity. No one generation is more problem than person.
* To clarify, “validate” does not always mean “to agree with.” It can also mean “to support the value of.”