By Peyton Carter ’23 (DCI Fellow)
Oftentimes in today’s world, we are surrounded by wildly different viewpoints. Fighting about contentious issues has become a mainstay in this climate, whereas in decades past it may have been taboo to even talk about your politics in a public setting. If we look at which groups are butting heads, most of the time we focus on the polarization between liberal and conservative parties, but when looking past those differences we see an even bigger divide between different generations of Americans.
The generational gap in what people believe and stand for has been quite apparent to me for many years now and even more so in recent years. I am only 21 years old, but I feel that even within the past 6 years, I have seen so many changes in the way people in the United States have handled contentious topics. I often see people my age, with a lot of passion and engagement with social or political topics, taking charge and using their voices to advocate for what they feel is important. Alternatively, the older generations (often known as the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers or Gen Xers) are generally more reserved with their opinions and beliefs on such topics, frequently with an emphasis on ‘traditional’ ways of doing things instead of adapting to changing times.
With the DCI’s semester-long D Teams, I have been able to witness firsthand the immense benefits that come from gathering different people from different walks of life, and specifically from different generations. Rather than resulting in demeaning clashes, our D Teams productively bring together students, staff, alumni, and community members. When my D-Team gathers, we have a mix of different generations with about half of us being college students and the other half much older. I have frequently found that during these deliberations, our older community members are always intrigued and interested in the perspectives of those of us who are younger members. This is not to say that young people do not hold an equal amount of interest in older members’ perspectives as well, but rather that each group is able to learn from each other.
After each meeting or deliberation that I do with the DCI, I always take away the same thoughts – how nice it is to talk with people that have different backgrounds and perspectives. It is a rare opportunity for people around my age to get together and talk about important issues and topics that surround us today, and even rarer to be able to do so with people older than us. Usually, when these conversations arise, it is because we are in class and our teacher tells us to have a discussion about it, or our parents bring it up at dinner.
I have found it to be a rare yet refreshing experience to talk about these topics with people whom I barely know and who have a diverse set of life experiences and outlooks on the world. I find that when we are all in the same room sitting down deliberating rather than debating about these issues, we all learn something from one another. As we talk, you can see both generational groups of participants begin to drop whatever preconceived notions they may have about one another. We start to see that in addition to all our contrasts, we also have some similarities.
Despite all these positive outcomes, these conversations don’t take place if people are not willing to engage in deliberating. You must be willing to give a little of yourself and drop any prejudgments to gain new outlooks on life. The only way to bridge the gap between separate groups – whether it be by age, race, gender, and more – is by sitting down with one another and openly sharing our thoughts and opinions in a respectful manner.