“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
PLATO IN THE REPUBLIC
That’s right. This statement did not occur yesterday, last week, or even in the last century. No, this characterization of the “youth” comes to us from the 4th century from Plato himself. It was basically his version of, “Kids these days” while despondently shaking his head at their absolute lack of understanding and decorum. You can almost hear the sigh.
He certainly wasn’t alone in his commentary. Good old Aristotle chirps ups stating, ““[Young people] are high-minded because they have not yet been humbled by life, nor have they experienced the force of circumstances. They think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.”
I mean, I’m pretty sure I heard someone say that last sentence yesterday…oh wait, that was me.
But at least Aristotle was evenhanded, dishing it out to the oldest generation, stating, “[Elderly men] have lived many years; they have often been taken in, and often made mistakes; and life on the whole is a bad business….They are cynical; that is, they tend to put the worse construction on everything. Further, their experience makes them distrustful and therefore suspicious of evil. Consequently they neither love warmly nor hate bitterly….They are small-minded, because they have been humbled by life.”
It’s basically an Aristotelian “Okay, Boomer.”
So there you have it. This familiar story where the older look upon the younger and sighs and the younger looks to the older and groans. It’s not new. In fact, it’s kinda how we are built.
Well according to research (yes, they’ve done studies on this), it’s because we genuinely forget what it is like to be a young person. As we grow and develop, we begin to change how we see ourselves and the world around us. “People use their present self as a proxy for their past self as well as projecting onto past others.” (Source)
In other words, as adults, we can use our frontal lobe to make distinctions about life we couldn’t do as a youth and we tend to project that onto youth and expect them to see the world like we do…but they don’t. And vice versa, youth cannot understand why in the world old people can’t see what is in front of their face because it is so obvious to them .
Why does this matter?
Well, it helps us to understand why it is often so difficult for older and younger people to engage in meaningful conversations that lead to ongoing relationships. It’s hard. We are naturally biased against each other. We have to willingly fight our own bias in order to make space for the other.
But, why does it matter to us?
The primary way our faith is carried into the future is by passing it from “one generation to another” (Ps. 145:4). In the church, we call it generational discipleship. And, in order for this to happen, it is absolutely necessary that these old people and these young people are able to find spaces where they can talk, listen, and engage with one another in meaningful ways that lead to ongoing relationship.
But, boy, can that be difficult. In addition to a natural bias away from one another, our current society has many structures in place that actually perpetuate the distance. Things like…
- architecture, building that have spaces specifically set aside for certain ages.
- spaces, designed intentionally to be mostly accessible to one age group.
- communication and technology, where information is obtained in different ways often leading to different perspectives.
- relationship opportunities which tend to be fostered among similarly-aged individuals.
And yes, every one of these constructs can be found in most of our churches. Buildings with wings, spaces that aren’t kid-friendly, information offered in specific ways that may unintentionally exclude a generation, and community groups, Sunday schools, and church-related activities aimed at a certain age group or life situation.
It’s a quadruple-whammy plus an already innate bias against one another.
So, what do we do about it?
The first thing is to recognize, age segregation is an actual issue. That not only does it exist in our society, it also exists in our churches.
Next, it behooves us to consider if our church structures are such that it exacerbates the division or offers ways for generations to come together for the purpose of relationship, discipleship, and mentorship.
Finally, it makes sense that if we find that we are lacking in those opportunities, to begin looking at our faith community and start making in-roads and bridges between the generations so that generational discipleship can happen.
I mean, it’s likely that there will still be some head-shaking and eye-rolling BUT hopefully there will also be more hands held in prayer, hearts knitted in love and lives joined in relationship. Because, that is how our faith gets passed on and written in our hearts.
This article originally appeared here.