Sharing your experience: generativity
Generativity is the desire to do things that will improve the lives and wellbeing of younger generations. This can be in the family sphere, but also in the broader spheres of the workplace and the community.
Within the family, everyday generativity could involve passing on skills such as baking, gardening or woodwork to grandchildren. Many older adults gain satisfaction from being able to show their grandchildren how to accomplish domestic tasks in a way that they might have learned from their own parents or grandparents. This also gives a different perspective for the grandchildren, who might not be as familiar with making things with their own hands.
Beyond the family context, intergenerational community helps to minimise the impacts and risks attached to social exclusion, both in the young and the old. This can enhance everyone’s social capital.
In many countries, older men and women can be involved in an organised or ‘institutionalised’ way through sports organisations (for example, boxing and football).
Women are more commonly involved than men in caring for people of different generations at a community level, through services such as befriending families where more support is needed.
This kind of generativity is often motivated by generational observing – discussed earlier in this course – the recognition that younger people within their community can benefit from the resources of time, care and support that older adults can offer.
Tommy (not his real name) is in his early 70s and is heavily involved in mentoring younger players in a local sports club. He says:
There is nothing better than bringing a lad in. He walks in and he can hardly put one foot in front of the other…12 months later…he can stand up. As I always said to the club men – it is not the football, we have a duty as well to help [the younger players] in life. Especially some of them who might not have a good background at home… I would give them the benefit of my experience. Not just as a [sports] coach and all but as a person, you know what I mean? I would like to think that no matter, they can come and talk to me about anything. It is vital that we look after people.
As we can see from Tommy’s story, he is not only giving his experience in sports to the young club members, but also his life experience.
Practicing generativity can be a way of getting engaged with your community and with your family members:
- Think about how you can pass on your skills and interests to your grandchildren, or to others from a different generation.
- Join a local club and mentor young club members with your own experience. This is not limited to sports, but could also involve creative writing, drama, cookery, woodwork, art, or anything that you feel passionate about.
- In the workplace, think about how your experience can benefit younger staff members, and how you could go about sharing your knowledge by mentoring others.
Virpi Timonen is a Professor in Social Policy and Ageing at Trinity College Dublin.
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