July 15 • 10:22 PM

Tolerance will help bridge the generation gap

October 10, 2007
According to the media we are a youth obsessed culture. Most all of our advertising is pitched to the young and if you believe the television networks the only shows that count are those aimed at people between the ages of 18 and 35.

Well excuse me!

There are some of us out there that are over the age of 35 and baby boomers aside, those of us who are so-called senior citizens are, believe it not, almost a majority in this country.

At the risk of ranting I'd like to address the youth about what it means to get old.

When I was a young man I really didn't appreciate what it meant to grow old. I soon began to realize that age is not revered in our country as it is in other nations of the world, such as Japan and China. In fact we do all we can to avoid getting old.

Walk down the aisle of any well-stocked drugstore and you begin to get the idea. Row upon row of face creams that promise to hide our wrinkles and restore our youthful good looks along with hair colorings that allow us to wash out our gray hair and a variety of pills that are supposed to restore fading memories or renew our youthful vigor.

The message all of this sends, of course, is that we are to avoid old age like the plague and go into our golden years kicking and screaming. Is it any wonder that some under the age of 30 hold the older generation in contempt?

Now I must admit growing older is not fun, particularly if you have health problems, and it is probably quite normal for one to miss their youth—especially if you have a 20-year-old mind in a 60-something body that is beginning to show signs of wear and tear. I think I can deal with that, but more and more when I keep running into kids who sometimes literally run into us on their way to the mall or imply with the expressions on their faces that we are a burden I begin to get more than a little cranky.

Yes we are slow sometimes and some of us can't hear too well and it does seem that our conversation dwells on our medications and the mortality box scores we find in the obituaries, but that's just a superficial indication of age and not the sum and substance of what being a senior citizen is all about.

What really annoys me however is the stereotyping our society insists on using to describe those of us of a certain age. Judging from what I see on television, for example, except for 'The Golden Girls' and 'Murder She Wrote' there are very few programs that highlight seniors, and for the most part we are just background for situation comedies and police shows—either as the grumpy old grandfather or the elderly crime victim. Oh, once in a blue moon you will have a sympathetic portrayal of those over 60, but these are few and far between and usually done as movies of the week or something you might see on HBO.

It does seem too that the younger generation doesn't really appreciate the wisdom of our experience, the value of lifelong friendships, or the importance of holding onto family history which connects one generation with another.

Now I am not saying all young people are guilty of this, but there are enough of you out there to give one pause. There are some lessons that life teaches that just take time to learn. One of which is that both the old and the young need to learn to listen to each other and not just 'hear' what we are saying to one another.

It isn't easy to get beyond the superficial characteristics of either side of the generation gap. Body piercing, tattoos and loud music my generation might not care for are perhaps just as annoying to us as a slow gait, grouchy nature, and asking to repeat a word is to the younger generation. All that is really required is a healthy dose of patience and a willingness to admit people are a lot more complex than outward appearances might indicate, and if we just took the time to look beneath them we just might find old and young have a lot more in common than first impressions might suggest.

What all of us need to do is to develop a healthy tolerance for each other and recognize our differences are just that, differences. We all need to be far less judgmental of one another as each generation takes their separate journey through life and learn to appreciate the unique gifts which every individual has to offer.

Email Eric at

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