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From Generation to Generation

by on January 27, 2021

We only know what we are taught. My nephew was here recently for several days; I know that’s against COVID recommendations, but I’m not in charge of everything that happens in life. It’s also good, perhaps essential, to both spend time with a relatives as they grow up, and for them to grow up spending time with relatives.

He’s over-smart — if there’s such a thing — for his age (first grade?!?), with a great memory and keen interest in reading (I would quip that it’s easier to remember everything you read and hear when you’re younger), writing, arithmetics, the arts, and sports. And he’s good at all of those pursuits. I told him ping-pong is like baseball: you need to follow through on your shots. That was a mistake!

What he didn’t know, as we were playing ping-pong, is where I learned to play. I asked him one day who he thought taught me how to play. “My dad” (my brother), he guessed? It is true, as I told him, that my brother, who was also visiting, taught me to play baseball. No, I told it, it was my grandma. Nana, who we collected visited as a family – talking to her through the glass at her nursing home – for her 95th birthday, was the one who taught me to play ping-pong. “I know you see her as old and slow” I told my nephew, “but she wasn’t always that way”.

This is not to criticize or reprimand my nephew for not knowing who taught me what. This is a story of what we learn – and perhaps what we don’t – from generation to generation.

My nephew had to return home, of course, which he did by flying with both of my parents. (I remember once flying alone as a seven year old to see relatives who would pick me up at the airport gate. Apparently such a thing is no longer possible). I wasn’t on this venture but there’s a lesson here. My very bright nephew had never heard, apparently, that where he lives there used to be rivers. Rivers flow to the ocean – or they did, until several major rivers were cemented in in Southern California. We only know what we learn.

Is it possible to know things we don’t experience? Yes. In my own recent experience I was in a Zoom meeting. In many meetings working on social justice I am an age outlier – most people have experience protesting the Vietnam War. This time a woman in her twenties or thirties was present, and took the time to thank the other members who lead discussions on nuclear weapons (history, current policy, development, abolishment) for doing what they do.

“My generation doesn’t have the experience of the fear of the Cold War,” she said. So the fear of nuclear weapons is very different. I almost wanted to interject and remind her that the Cold War has never ended – at least, as far as our elected official behave – but I didn’t say anything.

Surely there are people in my generation – who pretty much grew up in the post-9/11 era – who remember the fear of nuclear weapons? I’m going out on a limb here, thinking my parents weren’t the only ones talking about school drills to hide under a desk in case of nuclear attack. The fear of nuclear weapons might have been transferred to the fear of a terrorist attack by the powers that be, but aren’t they about the same fear level?

We only learn what we are given an opportunity to learn. Through reading or listening we have the opportunity to learn from the older generation, while we have the opportunity to share what we know with the younger generation. What we impart from generation to generation is our choice.

From → Education, Life

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