Yesterday, at services, the fellow giving the sermonette spoke about Solomon as “the most interesting man in the world” because of his varied pursuits, but noted that he was unaware of whether the heir to his throne was wise or foolish. When we read of this heir seeking to deal with discontented citizens in the northern part of his kingdom , we see that he had what would politely be termed a generation gap with his wise elders, preferring the harsh advice of his own peers. Even the language used denotes a sense of distance between the elders but community with peers, something that the person giving the sermonette cleverly noted. Generation gaps are fairly common in life, and their existence tends to threaten the success of communities, which depend on the passing of virtue and insight and wisdom from one generation to the next.
Given my general interest in gaps and niches and communication, all of which is profound, and the fact that I inhabit a gap myself in my religious community between a large group of somewhat older middle-aged parents and numerous somewhat younger teens and young adults, it is little surprise that I should write about the matter myself. Being someone who mixes the cynicism and isolation of one generation with the social longings and productivity of another generation, I tend to find myself in a gap that tends to increase the stress of life, even if it does tend to make my life richly complicated in good ways as well. Each generation, each stage of life, each among the many varieties of human beings that God has created, provides a perspective that is worthwhile and that enriches the whole if it is allowed to do so. All too often, though, we do not empower that richness because we do not see what others have to offer or how it makes their own lives and everyone else’s better.
There are generally two ways where we deal with generation gaps successfully. The first is when we recognize for ourselves that we lack wisdom or discernment or understanding or context in a given situation and we seek it out from those who are older and wiser. I have commented before that among the sweeter memories of my childhood is drinking root beer and talking with my lonely great-grandfather, a man who in his youth had been a world-class athlete (something I have never been nor ever will be) . Despite the 81-year age gap between us, though, and the wide gulf in culture and worldview that took place between his youth and mine, we were able to get along quite well because I have a love for hearing the stories that other people have to share, and tend to freely share my own with others as well. When we know the stories of other people, and we recognize their perspective, then we can gain wisdom from them even when they are not directly trying to teach us.
The same is true in reverse. There are times, and it is baffling when it first begins to happen and long afterward, when one is seen as being wise and discerning and becomes a source for wisdom for younger people. If we have lived life well we will have something to offer others in service and in advice and in simply being there as a patient listener. It is from spending time with people, getting to know them as friends, that we build bridges with those around us. We only have the same twenty-four hours to spend with others, but any time that allows us to recognize the humanity and decency of other people, allows us to understand their longings and what makes them tick as people, and allows us to encourage them to live the best life possible is time well spent, regardless of who the person is. We see and get to know people as they are, and to the largest extent possible, let things develop organically from there.
The reason why generation gaps exist is the same reason why any kind of gap exists at all between people who come from different places and different perspectives, because we see life differently. When we expect people to be like we are, we are likely to be disappointed even under the best of circumstances. We are all shaped profoundly by the times in which we were born and raised, by our geographic or regional perspective, by our own family background, by our struggles throughout life, and by our unique set of personal experiences. This is an addition to whatever quirks we have as a result of genetic or epigenetic factors as well. Yet because of the specificity of our own perspective, we seriously need the insights and encouragement we can gain from others who have had different lives. The best case scenario for developing close bonds is where we have some powerful and intense areas of similarity that ensure that we and others can relate to each other well, combined with enough differences that allow for mutual gain because of different perspectives. This is certainly true in friendships between genders and generations. We should seek the wisdom that we can gain from those who are older, who can give us more data over time and can share with us the fruit of their own experiences, just as we should be gracious and encouraging to those who seek wisdom and discernment from us, even if it surprises us that others would think we have any to give. It is in such ways that we fill the gaps that exist in our world because of a lack of respect, of appreciation, and of communication. There are too many gaps and chasms around us to avoid seeking some skill as a bridge builder in our lives, after all.
 See, for example:
 See, for example: