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Babyboomers, Gen X, Millennials. Whichever label applies to your age group is assumed to express something about who you are and how you approach the world. In some ways, that may be true. We are all molded by our societal and historical context, and common generational trends help us see how we have been influenced by the past and what direction we might move in the future.
Yet generational divides have often been a source of tension. From either side of the spectrum we regard each other as fundamentally different. Millennials are often seen as spoiled, petulant, entitled; and the older generations as ignorant and intolerant, those who caused the problems that were handed off to the next generation.
But are these stereotypes accurate? And what do people have to gain by bridging these divides and bringing individuals of all ages together for a genuine conversation?
Funded by a New Hampshire Humanities Community Project Grant, Brick Moltz, education director at the Fells Estate and Gardens, and Terry Osborne, senior lecturer at Dartmouth College, attempted to explore those questions with their intergenerational nature writing workshop. Moltz and Osborne enlisted Fells interns Sydney Hammond, history major at Colby-Sawyer College, and Jack Wright, environmental studies/public policy major at Hamilton, to create a program to foster meaningful dialogue between generations about their relationship to nature.
“We were talking about how different our relationship to nature is throughout generations,” says Wright, “And how my parents had a very different perspective growing up from what I did. We wanted to have a dialogue about what’s at the root of those differences, and our intrinsic desire to be in nature despite those differences.” Hammond echoed his sentiments. “We think it’s interesting how generations communicate and how they miscommunicate, how they interact and how they don’t.”
Designing the workshop and writing the grant application was, in and of itself, an intergenerational process, as the interns worked alongside Moltz and Osborne. “The grant writing experience was a microcosm of what we hoped would come out of the workshop,” says Wright.
“It’s a neat parallel, having their voices along with mine and Terry’s,” says Moltz. “It reinforces the sense that while it’s easy to despair as you get older, spending time with these kids gives you a lot of hope.”
The workshop participants met on a gray October day at the Fells, a slurry of rain and snow drizzling outside. After reflection and writing time, everyone was grouped by age to discuss their own relationship to nature and what perspective the other group might have. Each group returned to share their conclusions and, most importantly, engage with each other in a dialogue.
What happened when participants were confronted with the other generation’s perspective?
“I think it has to do with respect and realizing the value of different generations. Both sides can be dismissive. This workshop should open people’s eyes to the value of each side and what they are saying,” says Hammond.
Through discussion, the groups came to understand each other more and broadened their views on nature, the modern world, and members of different generations. These types of conversations help to define our separate and shared identities and to widen our pool of knowledge.
“To be able to communicate with someone who sees the world differently than you do,” says Moltz, “I get goosebumps just thinking about it.”
- Morgan Wilson, Marketing & Communications Specialist
New Hampshire Humanities programs are made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this these programs do not necessarily represent those of the NEH or New Hampshire Humanities.