I just got back from a fabulous weekend of participating in Many Gods West, and I’ll be talking about that soon, but first, this…
I wasn’t online much over the last few days, but at some point I sat down to decompress a bit and scroll through my feed. The announcement of a new blog caught my eye, and I clicked for more info. The writer was introducing themselves and the rather problematic area they would be addressing as their theme throughout. Right up front was their age and I must confess that I instinctively had an eye-roll reaction because it was quite tender in numbers.
But then I remembered everything I had already done and been involved with by the time I was their age (founder of a college Pagan society that became an all-path Pagan society – the largest active one in New England at that time, co-founder of a tradition, associate editor of a Pagan publication, regional and state coordinator for PPD, youngest attendee of the Pagan Leaders Conference and so on) and I checked myself.
The next day, the age thing pinged again in casual discussion with another MGW presenter who was talking about the path they had founded in their late teens/early 20’s, and the level of ambition they had then versus half a decade or so later. And not just because of my own level of exhaustion from leading ritual the night before, I commiserated about the things we do when we are younger, amazed at what we were able to accomplish in such a short time.
It’s really not that surprising that I’m thinking about age and paths. A little while back, PantheaCon announced their theme for 2017 would be “Pagans of All Ages and Kinds” so my brain has been working on that in the background. Celebrating diversity between paths is essential to an inclusive event, but I feel there’s some very important work to be done in bridging the age gaps. It’s important to understand the differences between paths, but even within our own paths, it can be all-too-easy to dismiss someone because they’re older or younger than yourself.
For the younger folk, they’re out to change the world, and they have an incredible amount of ambition and energy to do it, but not necessarily the expertise or finesse to do it in the most effective way. But it can seem like everyone older than them just wants to shut them down or force their own agenda upon them.
Of the older folk, they remember making mistakes, and are often still unforgiving toward their younger selves for not knowing better. They inwardly wince at what they did wrong instead of focusing on what they did right and how they got where they are now. It can also seem like the younger folks are disrespecting them by not responding well to their learned input.
Add into the mix the widening technology/generation gap, complicated by the mixed blessing that we’re all living longer. As technology moves faster and faster, the means of communication changes more quickly, as do the ideas carried by them. What is consider polite and proper etiquette for a twenty-something can be odd and improper to a sixty-something. And vice versa, when that sixty-something uses the terminology they’ve been using for the last 20 years runs about against the swiftly changing arena of social change/awareness, inadvertent friction happens that can cause huge amounts of drama because no one is understanding the gap.
You may be wondering where I consider myself, and that would be somewhere in the middle. I grew up that way, often associating better with those significantly older than myself or being able to connect with those much younger. I look much younger physically than I am (witchcraft! sunscreen!), but have often have been mistaken through my work as being someone much older. It’s definitely a weird space to exist in, but I’m starting to understand the reasons or purposes behind it. Maybe that’s part of my/our job, those of us in the between place, to bring everyone together.
So how do we bridge that gap? Here are some thoughts:
-Exercise comprehensive reading and listening. Instead of firing off a reaction/response, take a few moments (or more) to make sure you understand what the other person is saying and where they are coming from. Ask questions to get more information. It’s very easy to misread and put your own baggage between the lines.
-If something someone said is offensive and alarming to you, especially when in general you tend to agree with their work, don’t immediately “call them out” by condemning them publicly, but instead reach out to find middle ground. Help educate them in the best way you can. If you care enough to be offended, then you can care enough to get past “not my job.” Helping someone to understand how to do it right instead of telling them they’re doing it wrong goes a long ways for making change happen.
-Don’t immediately dismiss advice as someone trying to push you down. Similarly, if you’re offering advice, do it respectfully, “In the past, I found that doing X worked better than Y, and here’s why” instead of “You should do X.”
-Don’t assume. “You’re too young to know about that” or “You’re too old to understand how I feel” are more likely to inflame rather than reach out. The young person may be extremely well-read in history, culture, or experienced a lot already for their age, where the older person most likely was in your shoes at some point and is trying to help. Knowledge comes to all ages, sizes, and paths in different ways.
-DO consider what you can learn from someone else not in your age group. The young can offer new insight and ideas that can invigorate and inspire an older generation. The older generation can help the young save time by offering tried and true ways that will ground ideas and implement them faster.
We truly live in interesting times, and with that, the great potential to continue to build and grow our community/communities significantly. In order to do that, we need to make use of ALL of our resources, and that is the experience and energy of the entire breadth of generations. Together, through listening and exercising mutual respect, we can manifest some serious magick.