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Reframing Generations

by Kelly Chopus

December 5,2006

In this season of peace and goodwill toward all, I give you a tale of perspective, understanding and dare I say, love. Thanksgiving weekend had me and my family driving several long hours to Florida as we went over the river and through the woods. To grandmother’s house we went. I had too much time to reflect on the year, the season and the beginnings of some resolutions for 2007. While in Florida, I also had way too much time stuck in familiar and excruciating family roles – you know the ones we slip into like clockwork when around members of the clan. Arrghhh! The generation gap is alive and well, and it affects everything. Four generations to be exact.

Happy accident, or the universe playing a big joke, fated my experiences in The Four Generations Temple of Doom to continue when I returned to work after the holiday weekend. I attended a diversity seminar on Managing Four Generations in the Workplace and enjoyed several “aha” moments on diversity, relationships and daughter-ing (I am the oldest of five in our tribe so I feel entitled to make up words like that). We focused on age categories of Matures (65+), Baby Boomers (42-60), Generation X-ers (25-40) and Millennials (20 -25). Those discussions prompted my ruminations about Charlotte and how we might be more effective in improving our community by walking a mile in another’s shoes. Reframing our points of view by embracing our neighbors and their points of view.

This theme is like a recurring dream – or nightmare, if you are a glass-is-half-empty kind of person. No surprise, I am a half-full gal. It keeps popping up for me, during the day, on the phone with family and friends, in my subconscious at night and in the pit of my stomach. It sounds simple, put yourself in another’s position as you discuss, disagree, listen and provide and receive feedback. Does anyone stop applying their own particular values to every situation and try to see their neighbor’s values? It seems like a timely idea to explore, given the season.

Charlotte could be an even better place to live and work if we just once re-framed a situation and saw it another way and from another’s perspective. I wondered if this simple and intentional action could induce positive results in our neighborhoods, schools and families in this season of giving. I have been reframing all week and I can say with some certainty that when I am more receptive and open to others, they are more willing to share and hence more receptive and open to me. Also no surprise: we have been getting this exact advice since kindergarten.

Think about it: life among the four generations is nothing if not interesting. Matures focus on duty, honor and safety with a generally pessimistic worldview shaped by the Great Depression and two World Wars. Life spans are longer now, parenting mores are more relaxed and access to technology changed lives dramatically in the past two decades. The world has changed for these older citizens. By the same token the world has always been at war for our youngest. Understanding what makes one generation tick could be the key to engaging them more fully and bridging the gaps. Different issues appeal to each demographic and different factors carry importance.

How great it would be if servant leaders could speak to people at the place their hopes, dreams and life experiences live. I am thinking now of Charlotte and some of her fragile neighborhoods. Maybe, just maybe, we have not made all the progress we had hoped to because we never really took the time to understand how hot button topics to a generation could facilitate a discussion and change.

My own moment of clarity came early this week during a heated discussion with a loved one. The Generations seminar slammed into my front brain and so did my kindergarten teacher, Miss Tierney (still as beautiful as when I was 5!). I won’t say I immediately put on other shoes and took that mile long walk, but I did shut my mouth and listen real hard.

Ever hopeful, I’ll press on toward the end of the year.

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