Monday, March 2, 2009

Maybe We are Too Literate

I imagine this is not a new revelation to most, but there appear to be great holes in our social networks these days. These holes are devoid of essential relationships that once permeated and perpetuated society. I am talking about the great need we have for cross generational community. The young the old and the in between, living together sharing lives and experiences.
As my friend Ken and I where X-C Skiing the other day we got to talking about the great value of grandparents, not monetarily but in a family life kind of way. We noted that in our world there seems to be very little emphasis placed on what might be called tribal living. The concept that it takes an entire village to raise a child. In this day and age it is not uncommon for families to be separated by thousands of kilometers only having the chance to see one another a few times a year at most, a very broken up tribe. With that being the case tribes should not be thought to consist of just immediate family. There are neighbors, friends, people who attend the same churches as us, there are all of these people in and around our lives who bring with them knowledge and wisdom that we are not in possession of.
A lot of the time we see generational groups who are gathering together to help each other; young married couples, high-school students, empty nesters, all groups seem to gather together based on similar life circumstance. This is great but where are those who have been where we are now, who have weathered the storms we are facing and have come out alive. Where are the young enthusiastic shakers who would challenge the standard and cause truth to be uncovered and progress to be found.
At a recent film fest that came through town I watched a great story that captured some of what I have been thinking about. The name of the film was Red Gold. It sought to tell the stories of those who's lives are connected to the Kvichak and Nushagak rivers that flow into Bristole Bay, Alaska, and how their lives could change as a large mining corporation tries to get access to the water shed that feeds these two great rivers. Excellent film! The part that affected me most though was not the main point of the movie. Instead I found myself being drawn into a story of a 75 year old Inuit woman and her daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters. This 75 year old woman was responsible for teaching her children the art of harvesting the great salmon from the river in order to survive. From pulling in nets to gutting to preserving, all the parts of this essential practice where being instilled in the family. She taught them the rhythms of the land they were living in in order to survive, rhythms that had been passed down to her the same way.
I am not sure why we are now in this situation of dysfunction and being out of step with other generations. One thought that comes to mind is from something that I heard Eugene Peterson say in a lecture he was giving on spiritual formation. His comment was that we have lost the practice of orality in our society. People don't listen the same way they did in the past, it isn't essential that we do. We can turn to all sorts of reference tools that are available to us, whether they be in books, audio, or video, we have access to more knowledge than we are able to ingest. We are too literate. There is no sense of urgency in listening. In older days we needed to listen when someone spoke because our lives might depend on it. The old woman in Alaska needed to listen to her elders or her family line would be wiped out. I am not proposing that we become illiterate, I am just thinking out loud that this might be a reason we have a disconnect between generations. In our culture when something becomes outdated, we toss it out and get the latest and greatest, maybe we have taken this behavior too far in applying it to people.
I would like to leave you with a list of words that I have come across in my own story that have caused me to be in this place of contemplation:
  • Elder
  • Honour
  • Mentor
  • Inheritance
  • Master
  • Well aged
  • Seasoned
  • Chief
  • Wisdom
  • Experience
I Would love to hear from you about your experience in this and your thoughts, please comment.

bye for now,


  1. i believe you are on to something. I concer, I whole-heartedly am struck by these things in the last months...

  2. You have brought up some crucial insights in your commentary on life. The thoughts regarding listening are so accurate. I have never considered them from this perspective before but I can see these ideas play out in my classroom sometimes. I once heard a statement that went along the lines of, "We don't listen because of what the person has to say, we listen because of the person who is speaking." It is worth considering. Hopefully, we hear all of the people that talk to us, but there are a select few that most of us actually "listen" to. What makes a person worth listening to and then how can we become more like that in our own lives?

  3. Hey some great insights Dave. I have always found that I listen well to people when I know that they also have listened to me and understood me.

  4. that film Red Gold was beautifully done. best one for sure. (I mean, how many ski films do we need to see?) -- as a kid who always wanted to be with adults, (and I still at times find I don't quite belong where I wish I could be), I can say that those relationships were the most valuable to me. my parents also encouraged and loved having me around when they were with their friends. Many of whom listened to me and treated me like a real person, without condescension. Of course now mom and dad and I share a lot of friends, which is kind of... frustrating at times. Can't win 'em all I guess. Good post A. :)

  5. From the very moment Levi opened his eyes he has been unable to see the lines drawn between generations. I take no credit, because it was watching him that I learned to listen and to teach. Now I value deeply the ability he has to allow himself to be raised by a village and have benefited myself from the village he picked. I love your post! and wholeheartedly agree!