Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thoughts on bridging communication gaps

Harry in 2011
In emails my dad saved in his computer documents, he wrote about communication – or the lack of – between boys and girls, parents and children, generations, and cultures. Below youll see excerpts from several emails he sent between 2007 and 2012 to four different young women. I do believe he could have authored a thought-provoking column for young folks in addition to his music column for old folks.

To my cousins who are about to be Bat Mitzvah girls, a few words of not exactly advice, not exactly counsel, but just a few random thoughts.

You are about to enter the weird world of the teen-age girl, where you will be locked in for the next six years. These teen years are different for girls than for boys, since girls grow and mature at a faster rate than boys. So you must be kind to boys who, though they are the same age as you, may seem to be much younger and less mature for the next few years.

Your role during the teen years is to torment your siblings and to drive your parents crazy. (You must know that insanity is hereditary; parents get it from their children.) Your parents’ role is to tell you every day what you are doing that is wrong and how to do things right. No matter how tough they are on you, however, always remember that they love you very much and everything they do to you is for your own good. Of course, when it sometimes seems that they’re too tough, you can always count on your grandparents for some extra tender-loving care. Their love is unconditional and in their eyes you can do no wrong, whereas in your parents’ eyes – well, we just went through that, didn’t we? Regarding your siblings, while you may take great delight in tormenting them now, mark my words, when you are full grown adults you will suddenly discover that your siblings are your best and forever friends. Keep that thought in the back of your minds, always.

I wish I were wise enough to give you some advice on how to get through the teen years, without some misery and agony, but no one is that wise. Everybody has to work his or her own way through this period. The best advice I can give is to tell you to enjoy this time of life, every minute of it, through the good times and the awkward or embarrassing moments that are sure to happen. It’s all part of the growing process that you’re starting on now. And as you move through these teen years, always remember that everyone grows older – that’s inevitable, a fact of life. The important thing is to grow up while you’re getting older, and that’s entirely up to you.

  * * *
You should know that it’s very hard for parents to really communicate with their kids. Questions and answers are usually perfunctory between them, not substantive. It’s also very difficult to understand the deep feeling of love, unconditional love that parents have for their children. And, it’s very hard to communicate to kids just how much that love grips your soul. So, oddly enough, real communication between children and parents very often has to start coming from the kid to the parent, not vice versa.

 * * *

If I haven’t said it clearly before, parents usually find it difficult to engage their children in adult conversation or discussions. Neither parent nor child listens to the other, especially on subjects where they disagree and most especially when the parent is trying to tell the child to do something or not to do something. But – and this is a big but – in my experience, you’d be surprised to know that your parents are eager – would be delighted – to engage you in a thoughtful discussion on any subject you choose. And you’d probably be surprised at how smart they are and how much they know, just by virtue of having lived twice as long as you and having learned by experience.

Experience is one thing that each generation tries to teach to the next one but can’t. No matter how much experience I have, I cannot transmit it to you or your generation. You have to learn by your own experience. I can only tell you about my experience and hope that you can take some lessons from it. I’m not talking about you and me personally. I mean I – the old generation – and you, the young generation. ...

Like I said before, I wish I could transfer some of my experience and knowledge to you personally and a few others like my grandchildren and all the young people I know in your age-range. But I can’t. The best I can do is what I’m doing now – trying to transmit some of it to you and hope enough of it rubs off on you to make the effort worth it. 

* * *

If you take parenthood seriously, you attempt to instill in your children the values that you held and that your generation took for granted. They are the values that formed the foundation of our entire civilization. The values that the Bible taught us to live by – faith in God, honesty in dealings with your fellow men, generosity, charity, love, and the attitude that is embodied in the simple phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Beyond the basics, however, there is very little that most of us can teach our children, and too many of our generation, far too many, have not even taught our children these basic values. How else to explain children killing other children? How else to explain the crime and corruption that pervades our society? Too many children have never been taught to respect others; consequently, they have no respect for themselves.
I wish I could communicate with children; not only my own children and grandchildren, but others, too. The problem is more than just a generation gap – it’s a communications gap. And the gap is not only between generations, it’s also between nations and cultures. And within nations it’s between tribes and sub-cultures and even, in some cases, between families.

Even where there’s a common language, there is all too often a failure to communicate. And the fact that there are so many different languages adds to the difficulty of communicating. Did God foresee the consequences of His action when He destroyed the tower of Babel and created all the different languages? We humans have been babbling at each other ever since. What we need is a helmet that will automatically translate words or thoughts so that we can all fully understand each other, like the different civilizations from different worlds in the Star Wars movies. 

If only we could transmit our thoughts and our true feelings to our children. For most of us, it is not possible to do so – that is, not by talking to them. There is only one way, inadequate as it may be, and that is by writing – a medium that can reach not only our own children but all children. Our hope is that they and others will read what we have written and thus glimpse what is in our minds and our hearts, and, if we write with passion and with clarity, they will understand what we say to them. This is why I write. What remains to be seen now is what I write.

Copyright 2016, Elaine Blackman

1 comment:

  1. Harry could have had an extremely successful career as a psychologist.