Seniors and young people often know very little about each other, and they tend to stereotype each other. But given half a chance, members of both groups can open up and become friends.
That’s one of the central messages of local author Lee Reid’s book Growing Together: Conversations between Seniors and Youth.
The book documents a series of conversations between seniors and high school students held in English teacher Carla Wilson’s classes at LV Rogers Secondary during the past year, with text by Reid and evocative photos of the cross-generational conversations by Blaise Enright.
Reid structured the conversations around some deep topics, such as #MeToo, climate change, love, death, and loneliness. Seniors and youth told each other about their perceptions and experiences of these things.
On Wednesday, Nelson CARES (the book’s publisher) held an intergenerational forum where the participants shared the experience with the public. There were individual speakers as well as a panel consisting of young people and seniors.
Here are some selected comments from the forum.
Leahc Corpuz (student)
Me and my friends were like, it’s going to be so boring. But I am a very open minded person, right, so when we started talking about love, happiness, sadness, it widened my horizons and I learned to much and had so much fun. We had the stereotype of seniors from the movies: grumpy and they have nine cats and they yell at you without reason.
But it is way different and I had a fun experience. We gave it a chance. Every single senior here, I guarantee you … they might be old but they are young in spirit, and they have a lot of knowledge that you don’t have. So don’t pretend you know everything, because you don’t.
Judy Banfield (senior)
For the seniors it was a real opening and a sense of connection to the young people. What I found interesting was that I got really in touch with my own adolescence, it brought me back to that time, that intensity of feeling, my confusion, my loneliness, the terrible relationships I got into, it all came up. And for all of the seniors our whole lives came up, things we messed up and things we would never do again as well as the things we would love to do again.
We found these commonalities of loneliness, about fear for the future, about fear for the planet, so many things in common we did not realize until we talked to each other.
The connection was beautiful, it was heartfelt, it was real, it was fun, it was profound, and I loved it.
Patricia Rose (senior)
In my little senior mind, I saw youth as people with hoodies, and they scared me.
It was the most amazing experience to open myself what they are like now, what they think, how much we are the same.
It was wonderful, I can’t put into words what I felt when we were there. You listened to what they thought, and then you said what you were feeling, and it was such an incredible exchange of feelings and ideas. I was very surprised and happy to have participated in it.
Maddy Reilly (youth)
I was wary, I thought it would be boring and I would be sitting in the back. But after the first session I thought, wow, this is really cool, we are just having conversations with other people. It was really enjoyable.
My preconception was that they are fragile, older people and it was nothing special, but that all changed, and now I think they are people just like me and we all share a lot more in common than I thought.
There were a list of deep topics, and I thought that was cool because I am not a person who is down for small talk. When I saw the topics, and when they started talking, I thought this is way cooler than I thought it was going to be.
Jack Harrison (senior)
We talked about #MeToo and one boy said he was really confused about who he is with this, because if he is warm and sensitive he is bullied, and if he is aggressive he might be crossing a line.
[This discussion] changed my veiwpoint about me as a man and about what is happening in today’s world, and we‘d better pay attention to it.
It was a heartfelt experience. Judy (Banfield) and I were down at Canada Day and there was a band playing at night and I am not much of a dancer but I started dancing and [one of the youth] was there and we danced together for 15 minutes and had the most wonderful time. We never dreamed that these kinds of friendships could come out of it.
The last time that I was in contact with youth was when my daughters were growing up in the early 80s. In this group now, in the conversations we had, I was very struck by their maturity and I can’t say enough about the respect I have for the youth today. You read in the paper what the high school students did after the episode in Florida, and the things they stand up for today. I find the youth exceptional.
Carla Wilson (teacher)
During the project I noticed [in my students] an increase in a sense of well being and happiness, greater self acceptance, and greater sense of empathy. These extended beyond the conversation groups and into the classroom. Previously reluctant students were engaged more in classroom discussions.
One 65-year-old senior reported she had run into one of my students in the community and he had greeted her warmly and enthusiastically. It was so meaningful to her that he saw and acknowledged her as part of his community.
Lee Reid (senior and author of Growing Together)
I would like to see intergenerational education as a change agent throughout the provincial education system. I would love to see a sequel which would be a documentary film with another group at LV Rogers.
I am convinced that projects like this restore an ancient form of wisdom-sharing and inspire the growth of kindness and compassion, so I see Growing Together as a compassion-building experience that reduces fear and alienation.