There has been a gap between the generations as long as there have been parents and children. So the generation gap is not a new concept, rather an old idea that keeps cycling around every time we need to explain a broad difference in understanding between different age groups. When this gap in understanding drives a communication wedge between people of different ages it is truly unfortunate. When there is no effort made to try to bridge that gap in understanding, the generation gap becomes a reliable crutch to lean on and an excuse to stop trying to communicate. Can you hear the words below being practically spat out?:
“You’ll never understand technology; you’re too old to get with the 21st century!”
“Your music today is nonsensical – how can you stand to listen to that garbage?”
“You call that dancing? You have no idea of what real dancing looks like!”
“How can you possibly help me with my math? You do know that math today doesn’t use an abacus anymore, right? Oh, yeah, I forgot – you still have your fingers!”
Since conflict in society is not only inevitable but it’s also necessary for productive growth and change, conflict in families is also to be expected. As Marx extolled, the greatest source of societal fraction is over the distribution of property. Do you find that your biggest generation gap battles are over property issues (my toys, my room, my possessions)? When you add to the mix talk like, “when I was your age, I didn’t have…” then the battle lines are drawn and each side digs in ready for the fight.
You are only human, and that human element says that you can’t be expected to rise 100% of the time over your innate selfishness [see blog post 10/10/12 for more on the selfishness subject] or to control your emotions fully (with anger being the easiest emotion to flare up and the hardest to control). Other human qualities that can strain and break relationships include misrepresentations (you necessarily perceive the world through your own reality filter) and betrayals (many times lies are necessary [see blog post 4/29/13 for more on lying].
When human frailty factors are stirred into the generation gap pot, there will be flare ups. Recognizing this fact and dealing with it with skill, a real interest to learn, and much patience can create a bridge to span the generations. Toss in genuine affection and the irksome differences become fond memories.
COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY: There will always be a generation gap as long as there are generations. Knowledge continually runs ahead, sometimes faster than everyone can keep up with. But that gap in understanding need not become a communication barrier unless you allow it to happen. We all like what is familiar and comforting as reassurance that all is right in our world. When things change too quickly and you feel like you are being left behind, you may stop wanting to play catch-up. Insightful communication skills allow for a bridging of the generation knowledge gap without either side losing face.