Reading a recent Toronto Star article, I was quite moved by the story about the death of an incredible 21-year old university student named Kristina; who was studying nursing. Kristina donated her organs to help save the lives of five people. One of them, Susan Vieira, a 64-year old retired nurse, received Kristina’s heart. When she found out about Kristina, she decided to go through Kristina’s bucket list, checking off items on her behalf.
To me, this speaks of inter-generational relationships and the natural connection and affinity between young and old. Youth and older adults have so much in common. As Susan and Kristina’s story demonstrates, even in death there is a strong mutual bond. Moreover, we inspire each other. Susan, an adventurous woman, continues living life to the fullest so that Kristina’s vitality, exuberance and zest for life lives on.
Inter-generational relationships refer to social interaction between different generations – individuals of different ages. In the community, the focus is often on relationships where the individuals are not related to each other; hence, beyond the inter-generational connection that occurs in families between grandparents and their grandchildren.
Our society has a tendency towards age-segregation, rather than promoting intergenerational interaction and connection and the strengthening of these bonds. Children go to age-graded schools, adults go to their places of work and older adults have seniors’ centres, seniors’ programs, seniors’ housing and…well you get the picture.
Even within families, inter-generational interaction has decreased due to social changes from employment mobility and shifting family structure. Programs that consciously engage the generations and act to connect them go against the norm of segregation.
In my work, I actively promote inter-generational interaction and have seen the results first hand. I teach a Sociology of Aging class at York University and have consciously cultivated opportunities for inter-generational connection. This has been rewarding for everyone involved.
There are more community programs being developed for the purpose of stimulating inter-generation interaction, such as Cyber Seniors and The Creative Space. In Canada, i2i promotes an inter-generational society. Community is strengthened when the generations come together. There is still much work to be done to help us realize the untapped potential of inter-generational bonds and connection.
Together, we are stronger – we can work towards our goals and reach our vision of a Canadian society for all ages.