Reciprocal Learning: Intergenerational Exchange

I host a monthly coffee house in a small rural town in Nova Scotia, Canada. It’s an intergenerational space, we always have performers and an audience that range from teenagers to people in their sixties and everything in between, and it is not uncommon to see that age range extended on both ends. It’s a very generous and welcoming space and all performers receive appreciations and acknowledgement regardless of abilities, experience or style. It’s always heartening, during the intermission, to see these generations mingling in this informal space.

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Where once this kind of intergenerational exchange was common, expected and necessary for the health of a community, it has unfortunately grown to be a rare and novel experience. Young people are relegated to schools, youth centres or recreation programs, while adults inhabit the world of professional work, and elders are placed in retirement homes. This age segregation has created a scarcity of intergenerational sharing of knowledge, stories, and experiences. We see this most poignantly in the void of healthy adult relationships to support young people’s growth and development; and seniors disenfranchised from their roles as community elders and wisdom keepers. This marginalization has profound negative impacts on community vibrancy, health and safety.

I’ve been building leadership capacity in youth, young adults and adults for over twenty years. Leadership in these contexts is not about a traditional definition of leading with one strong voice, rather encouraging people to lead through service, and that being one’s best and true self, is leadership.

This kind of leadership training often creates opportunities for people to be recognized for all their gifts and potential. For young people this means they are seen by their communities as contributing citizens. Much of my work is with young adults who are also pushed to the fringes of society by poverty, limited education, or mental illness. On numerous occasions, I’ve heard adults and elders amazed and impressed when they witness young people from all backgrounds in competent leadership roles. Why is it so rare for our communities to believe in youth taking action? How can all young people be seen as community change makers?

When facilitating an intergenerational space, I often draw attention to the reciprocal learning that is possible when young people are provided with genuine opportunities to embrace their leadership potential and step up. For this to happen, it often requires adults to demonstrate an openness and humility to learn from young people, and take a step back. If we invite elders into these same spaces, with similar intentions to listen to understand, possibilities open up that may not have existed before.  In these kinds of wholehearted intergenerational exchanges, young people, adults and elders benefit, we knit a stronger social fabric, and increase the potential for community resiliency.

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Brian Braganza is a Courage & Renewal® Facilitator and experiential educator specializing in community resiliency, sustainability education, youth engagement, and systems change. Brian and Tara Reynolds will be co-facilitating WholeHeart's Spring Intergenerational Leadership Exchange in Greensboro on Saturday, April 28th. Please join us!