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Intergenerational Communication

My oldest child’s Hebrew name means “miracle.” More exactly, since Computer Cowboy and I never took fertility for granted, producing that offspring was an answer to our prayers.

Blessedly, a son, another daughter, and another son followed.

That other daughter and those other sons, too, have names that refer to The Almighty. One has a name that means “G-d is my judge,” another had a name referencing “G-d’s goodness,” and a third one’s name means “knowledge of G-d.” After all, every child, including Computer Cowboy’s and mine, has three parents; mother, father, and the Aibishter.

These days, some of those four miracles, themselves, are parents. Thus far, our boys and girls have added grandsons and a granddaughter to our family. Consequently,  I’m spellbound! I knew that our children are marvels. I now know, as well, that, correspondingly, their children are marvels, too. I’m grateful for my generations.

Not everyone is imbued with similar appreciativeness. Some of my peers and many strangers, whose words I’ve heard or read, fail to value the significance of having children, grandchildren, or, increasingly, great-grandchildren, in their lives. Rather, they’re caught up in kvetching about youngins’ general disregard for oldsters’ well-being. To wit, instead of celebrating possible exchanges with their descendants, those peers and strangers discount their generations’ “imperfect comprehension” of cross-generational experiences. Regrettably, such quantitative lexemic analyses never illuminates healthy assumptions about discourse’s give-and-take, i.e., does nothing to enhance bonding among generations.

Truly, it ought to be insignificant that, for instance, some contemporary kids insist on using pronouns such as “them/their,” instead of the ones to which our generation is accustomed, e.g., “he/his” or “she /hers.” Likewise, it’s of no consequence that members of Generations Z and Alpha forego using colons to indicate lists when they send us emails—we better retain our familial connections when, instead, we appreciate that they’ve made the time to communicate at all. More generally, to properly heed youths’ voices, it behooves us to heed the intentions behind their words and to disregard their messages’ execution.

According to our internalized communication conventions, we comprehend interchange as involving the generating, the organizing, the developing, and the refining of ideas. We expect scant connections when insufficient material is originated. We predict that thoughts might be received, but not integrated by audiences if they are presented in disarray. We presume that ideas that are not well unsupported by examples, explanations, or the like, might be incorporated by listeners/readers, but did not necessarily believe. Plus, we hold the conviction that ideas that are semantically filtered will be attended to and, maybe, followed.

Contrariwise, the newest generations don’t necessarily embrace our yardsticks—they don’t always deem our discourse rules as worthy. Youngsters are busy with TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and more. If “the media is the message,” then we grandparents build few bridges since most of us are as unskilled at employing, let alone unfamiliar with, convergent media as our grandchildren are with analog clocks, typewriters, or any other mechanism devoid of bells and whistles. It’s not that our messages don’t hold our cherished young ones’ attention as much as it is that any message not sorted out via loud, flashy channels culls no response from them.

Not only do the generations use vastly different media, but we offer vastly different meanings and responses thereto. Generation gaps surrounding relatively superficial items such as clothing, hair styles and music are less noteworthy than are dissimilarities in cognizing cultural nuances.

Viz., weigh the experience of forebearers who prefer to read and write in English than in Hebrew. We’re likely to have a handle on Israeli culture that is very different from the understanding our children (and their children) possess, especially if the latter were born locally or were brought here at a young age.

To be more precise, some of us who made aliyah in midlife or later, blundered (and continue to do so) in grasping some of our nation’s “fine distinctions” such as the need to bring a picnic when celebrating a soldier child’s kumta, or the need to anticipate that a “simple” graduation celebration at a religious girls’ school will include a meal, Maariv, hugs from other girls’ mothers, and more. Surely, we old folks don’t get the same picture of “how to be Israeli” as our children and their children do.

Accordingly, maybe, instead of our cohort taking offense at our scions’ derision of our style of communication, we could become more accountable for how that style influences the breakdown of intergenerational conversations. Communication is a negotiated process, is a parley among involved parties. It’s unreasonable to expect only one of them to try to understand the other.

I love my babies and forgive them, usually, for growing up so quickly. Equally, my grandchildren are the best of all possible grandchildren. My successors deserve to have the best of all grandparents. They deserve elders who not only ask them to share ideas in ways that are meaningful to seniors but also who attempt to create discourse that is meaningful to those young ones. It must be together that we fashion intergenerational communication.

About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.
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