Young Man’s Guide to Talking With Elders
As a young man starting out and trying to get on in life, one of the biggest challenges I have to face is that of communicating with others. Communicating with others, by itself, is one of the most subtle and complex tasks we have to do on a day-to-day basis. Even for extroverts, it can be challenging to communicate effectively, but for those natural introverts like myself, it can be downright frustrating at times. It doesn’t have to be though. Fortunately, communicating effectively is a skill that can be learned with some dedicated application of principles. Being a well-rounded Scout necessitates excellence in communication.
For me, the area of communication that has given me the most frustration is that of communicating to the older generations, and I know that many other young men struggle in this area as well. However, these times of communication are often the most important for a young man to get right as they can open doors and set the course for his future. In this area of communication, there are many unique challenges. These can be reduced significantly by applying the right principles. There is not a magic formula; communication is an art that must be practiced for improvement. There are, however, a few simple principles and tips that I have learned which can help you significantly.
In general, we respect things that we can empathize with. This can make it hard to have respect when talking with the older generations because we haven’t experienced many of the things they have gone through. This affects the way we should communicate with them in two ways. The first is to simply give them the benefit of the doubt. If you aren’t sure about a topic, reserve your personal judgement and give them some credence simply because of their life experience. This can be hard if your gut instinct says they are wrong. There is certainly the possibility that they might be wrong, but you will make communication much easier if you give them the benefit of the doubt where possible.
This brings us to the second way respect affects the way we should communicate with the older generations. This has to do with a universal human trait. Nobody likes to be told they are wrong, but it is especially irksome if the person making the correction seems so much more unqualified. If you have younger siblings, you will understand this for sure, but imagine how you would feel if a seven-year-old came up and said you were flat-out wrong in something you thought was quite obviously right. That is a similar feeling to the one you give when you correct someone fifteen, twenty, or thirty years older than you. You can easily imagine what this can do to their willingness to communicate with you!
For this reason, have respect for an elder person’s opinion even if you think you are quite sure that they are wrong. There might be situations where you must correct them, do it in as winsome and gregarious of a way as you can. If correction is necessary, do it as respectfully as possible.
At our age, we often have quite a bit of energy and passion. When communicating with elders, we should always keep in mind that they are often more inclined to be methodical in both speech and action. Many times, they are less inclined to be in a hurry. They desire to think things thoroughly through before acting upon them.
This is where we can often fall into a mistake of communication, especially if we have a sense of urgency about the matter. Patience is the key virtue here. At all costs, we must avoid trying to ‘push’ or ‘hurry’ them to do what we want them to do or make a decision. Many times, this can create a backlash against your original purpose. Keep your cool, and present your argument or proposition calmly.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
It is a universal rule of communication to not make assumptions, but this is especially important to remember when communicating with elders. With each generation, the culture that man grows up in changes. While there is a certain bond of common experience that ties people of the same generation together, this particular bond doesn’t exist across generations.
In order to avoid miscommunication, take extra care to avoid making assumptions about how older people feel and think. Many times, different values are emphasized in different ways across generations.
Work from common human experience rather that time-specific experience in your arguments, presentations, and examples. If you have the chance, it is even better to talk with them for a while and absorb as much as you can of their values, culture, and particular presuppositions. The further back in time you go, the more likely you will see a difference from today’s culture.
4. Clarity and Openness
For all of the reasons listed above, it is extremely important to seek for an atmosphere of clarity and openness in your conversations with older generations. Be honest and straight-forward. Don’t fulfill the stereotype that many older people have of the younger generation. The generational gap has created a lot of unnecessary frustration for both younger and older people. Don’t fulfill the stereotype that many of them have grown accustomed to seeing.
Show them that instead of resenting authority, you are eager to submit to legitimate authority. Show them that instead of acting completely on impulse, you are rational and prudent in making decisions. Show them that instead of not caring about the past, you are ready to learn from the many mistakes and successes of history.
There were four principles in this post. The first was respect. Respect the experience of elders and give them the benefit of the doubt where possible. The second was patience. Trying to rush someone into something is one of the surest ways to alienate them. The third principle was to not make assumptions. The past was a different world; don’t assume elders will always react in the same way you do. The fourth was to exercise clarity and openness in your conversations. Convey your thoughts as straight-forward as you can, and don’t fulfill the negative stereotypes that too often follow young men.
It is an old saying to “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow”. It is amazing how much we fail to learn important lessons from history. Though conversing with those from previous generations (especially the one directly above us) can seem all to often like a frustrating experience, there is much we can learn and much we can gain from talking with those who came before us. They created the world that we live in today, and the lessons they learned can help immensely with our task of building the world for the generations to come.
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