When I retired from teaching, I returned to the “off-campus community.” My experiences within the University life were — generally — wonderful. Perhaps because, within the University world, the interaction between generations has a clearly defined aspect: teachers are there to teach and students are there to learn. It is a simple, ancient formula.
That formula, once it is agreed upon, helps to create an atmosphere of mutual respect. Within it, different generations communicate more easily than when they encounter each other away from campus. Within the University realm, older and younger generations learn that, in order to succeed, mutual respect is an indispensable aspect of the learning/teaching experience.
After retiring, I have strived to re-insert myself in the off-campus community. I found out that it was a hard fight. I felt like a satellite returning to Earth, after a long trip to an idyllic frontier.
How could I manage my re-entrance into the space that I had come from, years ago?
At the University, I taught Multicultural Theater for over 25 years, trying to generate creative connections between young people of different ethnic backgrounds. In the process of teaching that class — or maybe I should say “in the process of inventing” that class — because there were almost no texts or previous examples of that type of class, we (the students and myself) learned a great deal. One important lesson: multiculturalism is not a given. We need to fight to achieve success. Same thing with intergenerational connections.
Back in the off-campus community, I soon realized that I had entered into another aspect of multiculturalism, also representing some hard challenges: the intergenerational relationships.
Back in the off-campus community, I was a new old face. Emphasis on “old.” Age was a harsh determinant of the quality and frequency of meaningful collaborations between people of different generations.
Although I felt that I was full of strength, ideas and experiences, most young people had no idea — or interest — about who I was.
Of course, that also applies to lots of older folks. They also ignore my trajectory. Maybe because my main work has been in the theater? If you do not go to the theater, or if you never have read or participated in any plays, you do not really know about theater practitioners like myself.
A couple of years ago, when a script of mine was being excellently produced by a young local company, I walked into the office of an organization that promotes culture in our community.
I wanted to invite those young leaders to the theater, which was about two blocks from their office. “Can we help you sir?” asked someone. “Yes,” I replied: “My name is so and so, I am a playwright and an actor, I used to work at this cultural center, about two blocks from here and…”
“Oh!” a young woman interrupted, “That’s SO nice! I love theater! I saw “The Lion King twice!”
“Well,” I replied, “I am inviting you all to come and see our show. It’s cheaper than “The Lion King,” that’s for sure! I think that you will enjoy it very much! It touches issues that you are dealing with here. I will arrange for half-price tickets for your entire office!”
There were general sounds of glee from those young “cultural workers.”
“Hey,” said someone, “Let’s all go this weekend!” “YES!” was the unanimous response. “Let’s go!”
But, nobody showed up.
The same happened when I invited some young muralists who were working on the walls above that cultural organization. They were all smiles in the photos that we took when I visited their scaffolding. They would all be going…but none did. Hello?
Nevertheless, I am not here only to sound like an acrimonious old fart. I am also here to advocate for the young ones, because there are many among us, from the so-called “Boomer generation,” active participants in the famous “60s,” who have yet to learn how to pass the baton to the young.
In the Aug. 25, 2023 issue of the Mexican newspaper “La Opinión,” Raúl Zibechi, an Uruguayan radio and print journalist, writes: ‘Patriarchy is also found in leftist (or “progressive”) groups.”
When I mentioned this quote to a woman friend, a retired teacher whom I greatly respect, she told me: “Ha! There is where patriarchy is most pervasive and unchallenged.”
Indeed, older leaders have to strive to change attitudes and organizational styles that can clearly alienate our younger collaborators. Things such as learning how to truly listen to the young workers, or to simply make a point of inviting them to speak up, or to give public (and private) credit to their efforts, are very much needed gestures. That basic lesson of our infancy, “learn to share,” has to be applied in the way we lead. Or, to simply pass the baton to newer generations is an absolute need.
Although there might not be written guides to teach us about how to create strong and fair intergenerational links, let us begin by accepting that there are some problems in the process. Also, you cannot find the answer on social media. There is no “MapQuest” to lead us.
Like the famous poem by the Spanish writer Antonio Machado reads: “Walker, there is no path. The path is made when you start walking!”