Every time I visit the UK and ride the Underground, I am instantly transported into Neil Gaiman’s novel (and related adaptations of) Neverwhere. The various names of the station stops conjure memories from various parts of the story, but nothing quite does it like seeing the words “MIND THE GAP” painted on the concrete. These words appear at stops where there is a significant amount of room between the train itself and the platform. If you’re not paying attention, you can drop something in the space between or worse – fall into, get caught or lodged there. In Gaiman’s story, not only is the gap mundanely dangerous like that, but there is the rumor of a monster residing within it as well.
Whether you’re looking at the gap with possible lurking monsters, or the very real world hazards that inspired the story, the wisdom is the same: pay attention so that you don’t accidentally cause harm to yourself or others. Pretty simple right?
But not all gaps are so clearly marked with warning signs – with big block letters and bright colors residing close to a precipitous ledge where loud trains come throttling by. No, the ones that can occur along generational divides (as well as cultural and many other varieties) can be stumbled into haphazardly, even with the best of intentions. Avoiding drama and increasing good communication across various age groups is something I’ve touched on before here and here as well as in other posts, but considering that I’ve had no less than a dozen separate conversations about it in the last few months, I think it warrants another look.
I feel like I can perhaps offer some advice on this because I have been residing in this interesting bridge space between the defined generations ahead of me and the ones behind me. There seems to be less people in my particular age group (a result of the Cold War? Recession? Wars? all of the above?), and conferring among my peers discovered that we tended to find ourselves connecting with people much older or younger than us as a result of our reduced numbers. We don’t quite fit in, which can come in handy. So after a fair amount of discussion and observation, if I had to give one bit of advice to those older and younger than me, in order to help connect y’all better, this would be it. (But please do read both, regardless of where you see yourself.)
To the Millennials and rising generations:
Y’all have grown up (and are growing up) in a time when technology is advancing faster than it ever has in human history. And you are uniquely adapted to handling the influx of information as it changes from moment to moment. From 24 hour news to all of the social media platforms, you’re savvy on everything that’s happening as it’s happening, usually through dozens – or even hundreds – of potential sources within a single day. You are literally creating new language and redefining terms at lightening speed – which has resulted in an incredible array of intense and very specific labels that define identity and action.
You have the world at your fingertips in ways your grandparents thought could only be found in science fiction. For example, you are going to be seeing this as soon as I hit publish on the dashboard of the blog. Twenty years ago, if I wanted to write an editorial piece for a Pagan newsletter or magazine, you wouldn’t be seeing it for weeks or even more likely, months. Seriously, people had
arguments debates in the “letters to the editor” sections of Pagan magazines that lasted YEARS because it took that long for things to get published.
And while you are tapped in to the fastest stream of information and technology, pretty much everyone older than you is slowly but steadily moving away from the source of this info-creation-soundscape. As you age, you will likely experience the same phenomenon yourselves (that is, if civilization keeps going on at this rate, maybe). That doesn’t mean you won’t be cool, or as smart, or understand what’s going in the world – but language is one day going to change at a rate that will take you longer to catch on to. But what does this mean for you RIGHT NOW? It means you need to understand the following: the generations who have come before aren’t processing things as fast as you are. It can be really hard to be up to date on new terms and labels, reclaimed ones, and so forth. So that’s where you come in: be a teacher and a guide. Use those amazing powers of compassion and flexibility for language that you possess – and realize that not everyone who doesn’t immediately “get” you or understands what you’re talking about is NOT your enemy, against you, or a bigot. Instead, be a shining example that someone can say, “I met someone who identified as X, Y, or Z, and everything is OK. I actually get it now.” Don’t be that person who ridicules someone for not knowing what the correct terminology is – that’s being a bullying, non-helpful jerk. Rather see that through effective communication, change and acceptance happens best – one at a time, one-on-one. Changing the other into the familiar is powerful magic.
Kids these days, amiright? Well, the kids are alright, and they have some pretty amazing potential, despite of everything happening right now with the planet, governments, and society in general. And as I outlined above, you can see why they may feel or sound so different than your generation. But they’re still human, and they are a product of everything that has filtered down through you. They are adapting to a rapidly shifting environment, for better or for worse.
You can certainly roll your eyes at emoji spells, laugh at online rituals and Instagram altars, and scoff at the latest witch wave aesthetics while taking a swipe at late-stage capitalism for good measure. That makes sense, because change makes us feel uncomfortable and we want to feel secure in our wisdom. It can be hard to see your values reflected or present in their values. But for one, it took you a while to get where you are now, and two: young people are experiencing the world in a very different way than how we grew up. When I was 10, it was no big deal for me to ride my bike a mile to a friend’s house, by myself – and for us to hang out at a park or wander in the woods, without any adults. Now if children are playing without adult supervision in their own front or back yard, parents have to worry about social services being called on them for neglect. Their freedom to explore natural and urban spaces has been severely limited. Sure, poke fun at the dude living in his parents’ basement or the post-college 2 bedroom apt with 6 roommates, but the reality of the current economy is that most young people can’t afford to live on their own – even if they are highly educated and have decent jobs. As Christina Oakley-Harrington mentioned in her keynote address at the Magickal Women Conference – the younger generation is turning to “pocket” or virtual magic – because they rarely have physical space of their own. Actually that’s rather ingenious of them, if you think about it. They are making their space outside of regular time and place – much like the circles many of you may cast for ritual, just created in a different way and context.
So my advice to y’all: cut them some slack and consider ways you can help them discover other spaces and means of working. They are not rejecting what has come before them entirely (every generation does rebel), but they are making do with what they have and solving problems with what they feel they have access to. Our task is to help them build a foundation, connect them with the roots, and find a way to blend past and future. The hand-off is that we can learn a few things along the way too, which is the best way to keep the mind, body, and spirit engaged and thriving. We can’t assume that they already know the things we know, because they’re accessing information in totally different ways. It’s our challenge to find a way to reach out and include them, despite the dangers of the gap.
“But that’s work!” I can hear some people saying. Welcome to being human. I’m not sure exactly why, but we all signed up for this. Maybe they were handing out soup dumplings on the other side, or gourmet donuts. That would have totally got me, so I’m pretty sure that’s how I got here. Whatever it was, we bought the package and now we’re here. We can make this work. It’s worth it for us all to pay attention, mind that gap, but not let any monsters reside in there and take up space in our understanding of each other. Let’s rock this shit and sail past the gap into the future.
And speaking of sail and gaps, here’s a treat for making it to the end (don’t worry, he was OK):