Generational Kinship

I have observed an interesting phenomenon as my hair has gone white and my neck skin has gone south. When I am at the drugstore or at the market or at a restaurant I find that others, who share the same characteristics of advanced maturity, are especially friendly and civil to me as I am to them. When I smile at a white haired woman and she smiles back, it is free of any sexual innuendo. And between we men the smiles and the courtesy are genuine and lack the undercurrent of competitiveness, over wealth and social status,
that might have been present at an earlier age. There is thus a camaraderie amongst we seniors that stems from being at the same stage of life, freed from many of our earlier anxieties, and faced with new ones that we share in common. There is great comfort and support in knowing that others are going through the same scary changes with strength and good humor. It is one form of generational kinship.

But we are not alone, as in many psychological domains; there are parallels between those at either end of the life cycle. I have observed the same phenomenon of generational kinship when my preschool grandchildren meet children of about the same size and age at the beach or the playground. They immediately play with one another and enjoy each others company even though have never seen one another before and may not even speak the same language. Like we seniors, they sense the sameness of their position, relatively small, relatively powerless, and in need of the kind of reassurance that only age mates can provide-namely-that we are in the same boat and are surviving.

We are social beings, and the truth of that is never more obvious than at beginning and towards the end of life. For it is at those points, perhaps more that at any other, that we need reassurance about our common humanness.

About the Author

David Elkind

David Elkind is Professor Emeritus of Child Development at Tufts University.

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