Recently, we held an intergenerational forum at Deakin Edge, Federation Square, to bring together young people and senior Australians for a conversation about how generations can work better together. These were some of the insights I gained from the experience and the questions it left me with…
1. We are wired for connection
We actually long for it. As I sat on the panel hearing the different perspectives from the elders present, I felt a fullness in my chest that satisfied a craving I had been feeling for connection.
‘Rites of passage’ have taken place for centuries across the globe where elders have passed down wisdom, stories and ideas to young people. Is this where the longing for intergenerational connections comes from? Have we evolved to seek wisdom from our elders? Neuroscientist Lieberman says “Our brains are wired for reaching out to and interacting with others… These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.”
Additionally, our social connectedness also affects our hormones and immune system. Could connecting between the generations be the new vitamin pill?
2. Stereotypes are stereotypically wrong
The 3 elders that were on our panel are between the ages of 65-85 and are vibrant, entrepreneurial in their thinking, engaged, creative, hungry to learn and inspirational. They were full of life and had such incredible presence.
We live in a world of negative stereotypes about ageing, a growing divide between generations and messages that see older Australians painted as a ‘burden’ on our economy. Ageing in the media is directly and subliminally synonymous with degrading and anti-ageing is a billion-dollar industry.
The facts about ageing contradict many of the negative stereotypes. Although social isolation amongst older people is on the rise and affecting people in negative mental and physical ways, a recent happiness report suggests that happiness actually increases in older age.
We’re all elders in the making so let’s talk about ageing as something enriching that we learn from and gracefully grow into.
3. Wisdom goes both ways
The older people on the panel were just as interested in hearing from the younger people, as we were interested in hearing from them.
Although they felt technology was a disconnector, they all acknowledged it was just a part of life now and they were keen to understand how we would use technology to better connect the generations without sacrificing the power of the face to face conversation.
Part of our work with StoryPod is the development of an app that will help young people record and archive stories of older Australians. We hope this will catalyse enduring relationships between the generations. There are also other great examples of technology being used to connect generations such as Senior Techies on the Mornington Peninsula and My S4S - both programs which enable young people to share technology skills with seniors.
4. Connecting is contagious
We have all had the experience of feeling an instant connection or bond with someone after a few seconds of being in their presence. This is what it felt like at the forum. After it was over, I was so moved by the experience that it encouraged me to seek out more connections with older Australians.
This is because stories make us feel, instead of just race through life. The connection we feel from listening to someone's personal story boosts oxytocin levels that builds bonds. Plus, the release of oxytocin is contagious, so you're literally spreading the feel good emotions.
I know we can do better, together and these lessons about connectivity across the generations will continue to drive my work forward.
- Everald Compton, Chairman of the Longevity Forum
- Betty Amsden, Philanthropist
- Darrell Henry, Psychologist
- Inge van der Poel, Director of Elderberry
- Sophie Weldon, Director of Humankind Enterprises
- Verity Watt, University student and mental health advocate