Here I am, a few days past my life’s 89th mile marker, feeling like I’m trapped between two very different worlds. I have one foot firmly planted in the 70-plus domain. My other foot is in the 30-and-under realm of our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The problem? It’s tough making it that way especially when I have the sinking feeling that the gap between the two is growing.
Is there a chance that all those 30 and under youngsters will understand the world into which their grandparents were so unceremoniously dumped upon their early 20th century arrivals? How do we explain to our newest generations what a world without Social Security, Medicare, an interstate highway system, jets and a jet set, ball point pens and most of today’s electronic devices was like? It’s like describing green to someone blind. Add to all that the zillion or so political, social, economic or cultural shifts that have kicked in since the 1920s. We who experienced them can ourselves barely believe they happened. L.P. Hartley’s observation that, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” is not just discerning but accurate. How will we ever find common conversational coin between us and that tidal wave of young people that is here with more heading our way? It’s like reliving the babble at Babel (Genesis 11).
To further complicate our moment, did those of us on the far side of a 70th birthday expect to pioneer in the living-longer and the living-longer-longer phenomenon in which we find ourselves? George Burns’ line that if he’d known how long he was going to live he’d have taken better care of himself isn’t funny. It’s a digest of where we who are up to our hips in an unanticipated future find ourselves. Except as to knowing our life’s ultimate destination we are as dumb about the road ahead as were the disciples in their fascinating John 14:1-6 conversation with Jesus. What comforts me as I face a here and now unknown is that the Lord and I are on speaking terms, a circumstance that works best if He is doing the talking I am doing the listening.
As I head off into an unknown future this side of eternity I am doing the best I can trying to develop a useful conversation with my extended descendants, whether near term (children) or far (grandchildren and beyond). I have found that it works best when I understand the three basics needed to engage in effective conversation, discussion or debate. Let me explain them for you as best I am able.
I. First, before I can effectively participate in any of todays inter- and intergenerational conversation I need to understand and admit the position from which I invariably begin. More often as not as I begin serious conversation whether with my peers and my posterity with a four step process as an unconscious incompetent. I don’t know what I don’t know – and need to. It’s best if I zip my lip as gather as much information and insight into the people and the topic at hand as I can. As I do that my condition changes to that of a conscious incompetent. At least I know there is more than I had previously realized. The operating principle? “Dumb is until you learn – stupid is forever.”
From there it’s but a short step to becoming a conscious competent a condition built on the new knowledge I am busily gathering. When the day dawns when I know and know how to intuitively apply what I have learned I will have become an unconscious competent, able to successfully participate in pan-generational conversations and experience positive moments of personal reflection. It’s like what happens once we have learned how to ride a bicycle with ease or can type without looking at the keys.
That four step sequence is how we learn to first fill our private wisdom well and then dip from it in order to understand and then converse about pan generational issues. The hardest thing about learning how to do that is admitting that where many pan generational issues are concerned I am an unconscious incompetent. Me?
II. A second enhancing aid to developing superior intra and inter-generational discussion lay in recognizing the value of basic Robert’s Rules of Order underpinnings.
Robert’s Rules were developed toward the end of the 19th century as a tool for managing large meetings. Without getting into all the minutiae that befuddle most there are three principles that, when applied, can both keep conventions under control conventions and enhance one-on-one conversations. In essence Robert’s Rules isolates and identifies three “common” areas that will make useful discussion and debate (or one-on-one conversation) possible.
- When properly applied Roberts’ guarantees civil discussion by controlling personal attacks on anyone. No put downs of others. No angry rants. The minority should be given enough time to speak so that if they are persuasive they can become the majority. But there is a limit. All must show Common Courtesy.
- From the outset identify items about which you agree. Then zero in on matters about which you disagree. Move forward by surfacing areas of Common Consent.
- Create the best environment in which to debate and identify the best physical circumstances for serious conversation. Take turns and do all you can to help people hear. Be guided by Common Sense.
III. Finally, make sure that the topic or topics you want to discuss are defined to the satisfaction of all who are involved. Then deal with one topic at a time. Without that principle being adopted inter or intra-generational dialogue is in trouble, likely doomed.
If you take the time to work through I., II. and III. you will see none are very complicated. I’m not pushing rocket science. It’s more like knowing within our world that what-goes-up-must-come down. That’s a basic that is important to know if you plan to shoot an arrow into the air.