Reconnect with someone outside of your age group
I recently saw a story on social media about a bisexual girl who was getting ready to go to a Gay Pride celebration in Washington, D.C. She feared that on seeing her pink, purple and blue flag, her grandmother would have something negative to say about her sexuality, her identity and her display of pride. Instead, her grandmother offered to “press” her flag before she went out the door to celebrate with her extended community. That story touched me deeply, not only because it reminded me of the fond memories I have of my own Grandmother at her ironing board, but also because it reminded me of the inter-generational connection between the girl and her grandmother.
There are so many stress-inducing stories on the news each evening, it is easy to forget that we have many living history role models in our own families and communities. Some of our elders have survived wars, rampant segregation, immigration stories and other experiences that could help us make sense of our world today. So many of our elders have swiftly moved through the rapidly changing technology, and others have evolved in their beliefs toward other racial and ethnic groups as well as individuals of differing sexualities. We have an opportunity to capture their stories, listen to them and digest the life lessons they are willing to impart.
Learning is a mutually beneficial relationship. As we (re)connect with our elders, we also serve as catalysts for them to expand their opinions, attitudes and ideas. Psychologists have studied inter-generational relationships of incarcerated citizens and have concluded that both individuals gain substantial benefits from connecting with someone who can teach them about sometimes vastly different worldviews and experiences.
I was told that I should keep friends in each age group. That is, I should keep real friends in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, and if I am lucky enough, friends in their 80s and 90s. I do have a few friends in their 80s and 90s, and we write letters back and forth. I find that my conversations with my friends in their 50s, 60s and 70s are filled with wisdom and stories of professional and civil rights triumphs. My friends in their 20s and 30s keep me abreast of the latest music, trends and a perspective that I am often not privy to. And my friends in their 40s serve as immediate mentors and sounding boards.
So, during the month of June, I implore you to not only continue celebrating Pride Month, but also to reach out to people outside of your age group. Have real conversations with them. Ask them questions about their experiences. I am willing to bet the responses will surprise you in ways you did not imagine.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is the 2018 NYU McSilver Institute Fellow and an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the host of The Aftermath on Ozy.com. You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.