It’s giving…intergenerational

by Sean van Staden SJ


“This song slaps! It’s giving Ed Sheeran… I like his rizz. She’s flexing; I like the vibes. Bae was giving me shade. Oh, spill the tea! Had a bad day? Bummer! Shall we go for a goef? What a groovy idea, cool cat!”



Depending on which of these sayings you understood and which confused you would probably give me a good idea of your age range and which generation you belong to. I could likely make a similarly good guess if you told me whether you spend more time on TikTok, Instagram or Facebook.



We live in an intergenerational world. At home, school, work, and in our worshipping communities, we live, learn, work, and pray with people of varying ages and generations. Each generation has been shaped by different experiences and has developed their own perspectives and priorities. Each has created its own subculture, with a distinctive dress sense, music and language.



Sometimes, these differences can make it difficult to relate to one another. A young religious sister once told me how she struggled to relate with the other members of her congregation because they were so much older than her. Many of my Jesuit companions struggle to settle into communities when they are the only ones of their generation. Intergenerational intimacy can be challenging to figure out. Loneliness can easily set in.



Our churches face similar challenges. I have heard young people say that sometimes the elders do not allow them to contribute to the parish’s activities, or they force them to dress, speak and sing in specific ways. I have heard the elders decry the irresponsibility of the youth. They feel that young people need help and guidance.



The Society of Jesus recently released a document reflecting the state of the order worldwide. It observed the intercultural and intergenerational nature of Jesuit communities. It acknowledged that this can cause conflict in a community where different value systems come into contact. But it also asked how this intercultural and intergenerational dynamic can become a gift and an evangelical witness to the world.



Intergenerational relationships may be challenging, but they present us with many opportunities. They give us a chance to understand the world of people who grew up in a different epoch to ourselves. They are an opportunity to learn how to be attentive to the needs and sensitivities of others. Instead of running away from differences, we have a chance to learn from them.



This requires a deliberate decision to try to develop intergenerational intimacy. We have to decide to spend time with people of other generations, share our own experiences and perspectives and listen to those of others. It may even require us to learn their language and slang. Intergenerationality can build us up rather than bring us down.



So, don’t “ghost” your elders. Learn their vibes and share your own. Maybe we can learn to build intergenerational communities that are lit, fam.

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