A few weeks ago, I posted this video made by and for some friends of mine:
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I have been thinking about this video a great deal when it comes to staying connected to that “next” generation of progressive minds and hearts. Now I realize that there are many ways to define both “progressive” as well as the “next generation,” but rather than fill this post with disclaimers and definitions, I’ll take my chances and leave it up to you all to define these terms as you will. With this in mind, I hope these 10 ideas can be applied across many ideological and cultural landscapes, but again, I’ll leave this up to you.
In many ways, I do believe that whatever and whoever next generation is shaping up to be, they will cultivate and form a posture and culture of justice-seeking with or without those of us who have come before. I simply think that if we are part of future movements in helpful ways, the entire endeavor will that much stronger. So I write this list, not as much about that next generation, but to my own and those before me. For if we want our good work and our dreams for a better tomorrow to keep moving towards justice for all, we must do everything we can to stay in relationship with those who have been and will be taking our place at the table.
Mock newcomers – Choruses of “It’s about time…” or “Are we still talking about this…” or “That’s what I’ve been saying for years…” in response to folks first discovering a passion and conviction about issues of justice is not only unhelpful, but it is incredibly arrogant and short sighted. Not only does this assume some higher evolutionary ideological stature, but that the process of justice is somehow passed from generation to generation by osmosis as if is the fault of the next generation for not just knowing. Sure, when hearing about people first diving into issues of race, gender, etc. it is hard NOT to feel smug and self-righteous, but these attitudes will only lead to further alienation and exclusion of current and future justice-seekers.
Dismiss youth – Too often we old folks adopt a thinly veiled, “Isn’t that cute…” attitude when young people raise their voices. We mock idealism, use young folks as window dressing, and we lean into the idea that longevity is the greatest indicator of value and worth. We use young people and their perceived progressive ideology to support what we believe, but we really do not take them seriously or allow their voices to help shape and form progressive thought as a whole. When we do this, we subconsciously set up a “kid’s table” only making room for young people when they grow up — assuming they want to sit with us in the first place.
Foster failure – Well intentioned older folks sometimes throw young people into situations where they are setup to fail. Again, in order for us to pump up our own, “See, we empower young people!” credibility, we place them in situations where gifts and skills are not utilized well, organizational culture is toxic or it’s just not where this person should be serving. And when they fail or falter, unfair as it is, we feed the stereotype of the slacking, unprepared, and flighty young person. When we do this we set up future young folks because, not only do they have to prove their own capacity for leadership, but they must also overcome past negative assumptions based on previous experiences of young leadership.
Create chaos – As we feel our own power and authority waning, we yearn for situations where we can re-establish our place in the power structure. When these situations naturally present themselves, fine, but when we create chaos solely so we can swoop in and save the day, not only do we do a disservice to ourselves, but we weaken the organization or movement as a whole. When it comes to setting up young people, what better way for the grizzled veteran to save the day than to come in after a young person has failed (see above) and prove that we are still needed.
Assume authority – “Because I said so!” may work in some parenting situations, but when fostering leadership in today’s climate of crowd-sourcing, social networking and Wikipedia, it falls flat. Sure, some aspects of longevity deserve respect, but by the same token, simply being around for a long time, does not mean one has automatic credibility and authority. Believe me, I wish it did.
Hold on to power – I have been told by some older folks when talking about the future, “You just want to get rid of us.” This is patently untrue, but what I want is for those of us who have historically held positions of power, formal and informal, to be able to shift out of those positions with grace and joy. It seems as if we too often believe that the only option to not holding an position of power is obsolescence when, in fact, our legacies will be that much stronger if we are able to shift in our roles from leading and driving to supporting and mentoring. When we are able to make these transitions without anxiety or resentment, that which holds importance can be transferred from generation to generation, while that which needs to change can be driven by those who truly understand and embrace that change.
Assume mentorship – Okay, so while I do say we older folks must shift into mentoring roles, we must not assume that everyone can, should or wants to be mentored by us. Sometimes, our best move is to simply step away and trust that the movement or organization truly is bigger than any single person . . . yes, even us. Assumed or forced mentoring, is rarely helpful as mentoring is not only about passing on knowledge, but finding a synergy of personality, passions and perspective. We can and must offer to be this for folks who may be open to what we have to offer, but we must also not take it personally or become jaded when our mentoring is not embraced.
Be unteachable – My greatest mentors and teachers have always been the ones who are well-experienced, but are clearly still thirsting for knowledge and know-how. The whole idea that we should never stop learning, when modeled well, is not only good for our brain-function, but an inspiring and helpful posture of leadership to pass along. For when we are not open to different ways of seeing, experiencing and navigating the world, we model leadership that is calcified and stagnant, and not leadership that is robust and forward-thinking.
Abdicate authority – Getting older and shifting out of positions of power does not mean disappearing from sight. I get frustrated when people who have such a wealth of knowledge and experience, just disappear. Often well-intentioned gestures of “getting out of the way,” we lose something when an entire generation of knowledge simply goes away. The ways in which we will stay connected, both in tactic and time, will vary depending on many variables, but there will be moments when the stories, strategies and leanings of the past will be integral to the journey towards a better future.
Embrace hypocrisy – Few us of us can live up to the perfection of that we so often demand of others so at some level we are all hypocritical when it comes to our lives. That said, I also know that we are often confronted with situations where we act knowing that there are inherit inconsistencies when it comes to building community, fighting for justice and seeking reconciliation. Some examples of this that I believe disconnect us from future generations — being kind, compassionate and understanding only towards those which whom we agree, demanding ideological and/or platform loyalty over the building of relationships, and using tactics of violence and exclusion in the fight against violence and exclusion. So while integrity and consistency are difficult postures to embody 24/7, as difficult as it may be, when a situation presents itself where we can be more consistent, our collective future demands that we choose to do so.
Honorable mentions – Not being able to receive and respond to critique . . . Not being able to admit when mistakes have been made . . . Seeing compromise and graciousness as signs of weakness . . . Crossing the line from righteous indignation to to mean-spiritedness . . . Unacknowledged and unregulated insider-speak . . .
Now of course, there is much in this post that is severely subjective and admittedly incomplete, so I would welcome any pushback, additions and/or tweaks that you might offer, but I hope these might spur some good conversation as we strive for a better future.