We are heading into a season when generations will mix together with more frequency than they may at other times of the year (around a dining table for a holiday meal, for instance.) While we interact with people of a variety of ages at work, the differences in generations are often much wider when we move outside the office. I was thinking of the clashes that often arise during these gatherings as I was reading a new book of essays by the science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin entitled No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters.
Le Guin is 88 and, in this delightful and insightful book, she is not shy about saying she is old. In fact, don’t suggest otherwise. As she notes, “Encouragement by denial, however well-meaning, backfires. Fear is seldom wise and never kind. Who is it you’re cheering up, anyhow? Is it really the geezer?”
But what got me to thinking about relationships between generations, and the importance respect plays in all of our dealings with each other, is when Le Guin states that kids “who haven’t lived with geezers don’t know what they are.” They don’t see you. And if generations do encounter each other, it is often with indifference, distrust, and animosity. This is where the importance of respect comes into play.
Le Guin writes that showing respect is a decision, not an opinion.
“Respect has often been overenforced and almost universally misplaced (the poor must respect the rich, all women must respect all men, etc.). But when applied in moderation and with judgment, the social requirement of respectful behavior to others, by repressing aggression and requiring self-control, makes room for understanding. It creates a space where appreciation and affection can grow.
Opinion all too often leaves no room for anything but itself.
People whose society doesn’t teach them respect for childhood are lucky if they learn to understand, or value, or even like their own children. Children who aren’t taught respect for old age are likely to fear it, and to discover understanding and affection for old people only by luck, by chance.
I think the tradition of respecting age in itself has some justification. Just coping with daily life, doing stuff that was always so easy you didn’t notice it, gets harder in old age, till it may take real courage to do it at all. Old age generally involves pain and danger and inevitably ends in death. The acceptance of that takes courage. Courage deserves respect.”
Respect for others can be hard, and it is often easy to only respect those who share our interests and opinions. But I like Le Guin’s suggestion that respect “creates a space where appreciation and affection can grow.”
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season, however you chose to celebrate. If we’re lucky, we’ll have kids, geezers, and everything in between together over the next two weeks sharing times of understanding, appreciation, and, yes, even affection.
More to come…