How cross-generational understanding applies when finding common ground and building bridges across other differences.
Finding The Overlap
When I typed the address into Google Maps, I couldn’t believe it.
The first house that my grandparents purchased when they moved to Denver in 1964 was just blocks away from the new home that I had just purchased with my fiance.
“We are taking evening walks on the same sidewalks that they did,” I thought, double-checking the address.
The knowledge that my steps were overlapping with those who had come before brought me feelings of comfort and significance.
And this is one of the gifts we find when we choose to engage in cross-generational work in our personal and professional lives. Across differences, we find that our steps are overlapping with others.
Cross-Generational Work Applies to Building Bridges Across Other Differences
Through our trainings on cross-generational communications, we provide bridges of thought and perspective that allow people of different generations to see their similarities and areas of overlap.
Now, as we continue in this work, we can’t help but see how these same skills are needed as our country and culture wrestle with divides across race, gender and political views.
We believe that the practices that bridge generational differences can apply to other divides as well. We simply must begin with a willingness to do the work.
From Individualism to an Understanding of the Whole
To begin, we must start with ourselves. Do you know the identities and ideologies that shape you?
We inherit our worldview, beliefs, passions and perspective from our family units, our generations, our races, our ethnicities and our communities. It is important to acknowledge their presence, and understand how they shape our worldview.
“We represent our groups and those who have come before us,” author Robin Diangelo points out in her writing on racism in America. “Our identities are not unique or inherent but constructed or produced through social processes.”
Therefore, an important step in this work is to acknowledge that we are part of a larger whole, and it is our duty to also be mindful of how that impacts our work in the world.
Deconstruction and Reconstruction
Next, once we have identified our identities, we must acknowledge the assumptions and biases that come along with them. We have to examine our biases to successfully engage with people who have different perspectives and worldviews.
In our cross-generational communications webinars, we engage in this work of deconstructing biases and reconstructing understanding. We look at the characteristics of each generation in order to see where our biases fall, and open ourselves up to qualities in other generations we have not realized before. This process gives us not only practical takeaways, but also hope for understanding others across differences.
Diangelo also underlines the importance of this process in anti-racism work.
“To avoid talking about racism can only hold our misinformation in place and prevent us from developing the necessary skills and perspectives to challenge the status quo,” Diangelo writes.
To avoid talking about our differences can only hold misinformation and stereotypes in place. Thus, when we engage in the reconstruction process, we are taking the necessary steps to rebuild our common ground across differences.
A Toolbox For Building Bridges Across Other Differences
Once we have engaged in conversations and experiences that start our reconstruction of perspective, we can further engage in helpful practices that allow us to see our overlap with others.
In our workshops on cross-generational understanding, we dig into concepts such as empathy, perspective-taking, listening without judgment and assuming positive intent. We encourage cross-mentoring, a willingness to learn from others and a belief that everyone has something to teach us.
These skills form a toolbox we can use when we work with and relate to those from different generations — as well as those from different genders, racial backgrounds, socio-economic backgrounds, and political views. In a cultural moment when divisive and defensive rhetoric is common, these concepts feel both radical and refreshing.
Concepts to Carry With You
Here are a few key practices that may help you if you find yourself trying to bridge generational, racial or political divides in your life.
- Read. Take time each week to intentionally read an article or listen to a podcast that has been produced by someone of a different race, age, gender or background than yourself. Note any points of tension you may feel, and acknowledge your similarities as well.
- Invite a conversation. Reach out to someone in your professional circle or peer network who has something to teach you. Maybe they are from a different generation, different industry or simply engage in a hobby that you’d like to learn more about. Invite them to a Zoom meeting to simply hear more about their work and perspective.
- Write it down. Record the differences or divisions in your life that cause you the most stress or fear. Spend 15 minutes writing down why those areas feel so challenging. Do not put pressure on yourself to fix the situation – merely express your thoughts. Engaging in a writing exercise on a regular basis is proven to help our brains get un-stuck and find new patterns or possibilities. Try writing about these divisions on a regular basis to see what new ideas could emerge.
If we build the skills to listen to and understand one another, we will be better equipped to work collaboratively for the common good in all areas of work, life and culture.
As we engage in the work of communication and understanding, and even building bridges across our differences, may we see the ways that our steps are overlapping with others. May we be surprised and encouraged by what we find.