Last week I did something I had never done before. I responded to an email I received out of the blue and interviewed its author. You see, I get a lot of emails from people telling me about this or that piece of news and asking me if I’d like to interview them. Most of these are news releases that aren’t related to what I talk about, so I dismiss them out of hand. But last Tuesday I got an email with a headline that immediately grabbed my attention. It read, “New Year’s Thoughts from a ‘Boomer’ Doc.” It’s definitely worth a read.
I was amazed by all of the things the email got right. It mentions out-of-control college costs, problems with affirmative action, and unaffordable entitlement programs. And best of all, it wasn’t written in a preachy, arrogant, or angry way. Its tone was conciliatory, humble, and melancholy. In fact, the author says that the Baby Boom generation, of which she is a part, is largely to blame for the problems she listed. She did offer a ray of hope in its plea for Millennials and Baby Boomers to simply talk and try to learn from each other’s mistakes so we won’t continue down the destructive path we’re on.
I decided to take her up on that offer.
I emailed the author of that piece, Dr. Jane Orient, and told her that she’s absolutely right on all counts, and this is one Millennial who is interested in hearing what she has to say. I didn’t care to assign blame to any one generation for the way history has unfolded, but I was impressed by her willingness to at least broach such a painful topic. After some back-and-forth emails, she called me two days later and we had a wonderful interview. I didn’t write her exact words, but I did take a few notes. We discussed the importance of learning trades and skills that have value, although that doesn’t necessarily mean going to college. In her youth, young people could pay their tuition by working part-time jobs while attending college. Today, we aren’t so lucky. People should definitely respect plumbers, mechanics, and other tradesmen for the work they do. She encouraged me to have hope for the future when I told her that I didn’t see much to hope for on the horizon. And I was particularly touched when she said that people today shouldn’t be afraid to be wrong. Ideas are worth challenging to see if better ones are out there.
Looking for a Connection
I left the interview feeling happy yet puzzled. I had just had an uplifting conversation with a woman possessing many years of experience beyond my own, but I didn’t see any way to connect it to films, books, or anything else I typically write about as the Deja Reviewer. Thankfully, inspiration soon struck, and I decided to relate this interview to a book and film called The Giver.
From Receiver to Giver
I first read The Giver shortly after it was published in 1993. It was a mind-bending experience, especially when the 12-year-old protagonist, Jonas, discovered that the brief flashes he had seen of an apple and a girl’s hair were his first glimpses of the color red. I was shocked to realize he had never seen colors before and that his whole world was just black, white, and gray. It might seem like a small detail, but it opened my mind to new approaches to storytelling, and it inspired me to question my assumptions and not always take things for granted.
The book is about a dystopian future in which all emotion and knowledge of right and wrong have been eliminated from the populace. There is only one man who still retains all of these memories and feelings, and he is growing old. So young Jonas is chosen to receive all of his knowledge and take his place as the new repository of ancient wisdom. Being a kid myself at the time, I read the book from the child’s perspective. I looked forward to the positive memories and emotions that the Giver would share with Jonas, and I was ill-prepared for the thoughts of war, death, and other horrors that awaited the boy. The painful feelings were so intense and difficult to process for someone who wasn’t used to feeling anything that they proved too much for the girl who was supposed to be the Receiver before Jonas was chosen. She asked to be killed rather than continue on.
As a father, I now view this story from the Giver’s perspective. I try to impart lessons to my children and allow them to feel my love for them at all times. But sometimes I have to stand firm and tell them things they don’t want to hear or demand they do things they don’t want to do because they are necessary for them to develop into mature adults. I would be a bad father if I allowed my kids to do whatever they wanted to do all the time or if I sheltered them from any knowledge of the ugly side of life. They should know that they are loved at home, but they should also know that not everyone will care about their feelings. It would be a rude awakening for them to suddenly be thrust into the world blindly believing that everyone would treat them like their mom and dad did.
I feel just like the Giver. He can’t just hold back all of the negative things from Jonas. He eases him into them as best as he can, but there’s no way to protect him from all that he has to learn. He would be doing a disservice if he allowed the harsh reality of the world to be withheld from Jonas for many reasons, not the least of which is that Jonas would be a terrible sage if he only knew about the positive side of life. That’s the beautiful thing about The Giver. It portrays the generational divide in a way that respects what both sides bring to the table. The Giver is world-weary and wise while Jonas is naïve and desirous to change the status quo once he learns the dark truth about his world.
Opening Channels of Communication
I respect previous generations for the good they did, even though I know that their legacy is a mixed bag. I don’t pretend to be perfect myself. There are a lot of problems that I don’t know if my generation is equipped to handle. But I’m grateful for Dr. Orient’s message of hope that there are solutions waiting to be found. I’ll keep the channels of communication open so that I don’t shut out voices who are willing to talk to me and share their helpful experience and lessons. I’ll try to be like Dr. Orient and be humble enough to admit when I’m wrong and not be afraid to face hard truths. We can all be Givers and Receivers at different times. I think that’s a better way to think of ourselves than just members of this or that generation, anyway.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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