Thoughts and such like.....
There's a great TED talk by Grace Kim about co-housing, or as I call it intergenerational living . She talks about how co-housing can not only make us happier but also allow us to live longer and healthier. (www.ted.com/talks/grace_kim_how_cohousing_can_make_us_happier_and_live_longer). When I was doing work for a research project a few years ago, I was looking at the needs of elders living independently. One of the challenges is/was the sense of isolation so many feel, particularly when they are unable to drive, Here in British Columbia once you reach 80, and every two years thereafter, drivers have to be assessed by their doctor and submit their medical report to RoadSafetyBC, to ensure they and others are safe on the road. Unfortunately, for many elderly people their car is their means to socialization, and without access to it they often become isolated, depressed and even malnourished.
It's always important to create boundaries, important for our well being and mental health, however I wonder whether we may have extended our need for boundaries well beyond this healthy stance. On my neighbourhood walk there are a number of gated communities, these are communities for people 35+ without children, and it surprises me how many there are and how popular they are. I wonder is it because society has become busier, and in the process forgotten what 'neighbourhood' is about. When many of us grew up, we walked home from school, everyone knew your name, and you knew everyone in the neighbourhood. Neighbours were friends, and would check in on your family if they hadn't seen you for a while. Today many of us drive our cars into our garages, which open into our homes, and from late Autumn to Spring we may not even get into the neighbourhood except through the windows of our car!
It makes me question what we might be losing with this type of lifestyle. What are our children and grandchildren missing from being a part of this type of community. What wisdom and knowledge are they missing from not knowing the old lady or elderly couple down the street? As a very young girl I remember collecting three penny bits with my sister on our street. We had been given a Smarties tube, eaten the Smarties, and so now had to collect three pennies bits for babies in Africa. We walked up the street to each neighbour filling our tubes, then crossed the road to come down again. One was the house of an old man (he was probably in his 50's), a retired AirVice Marshal. He was fierce; who were we? How did he know we would give the money to the charity? And, the questions went on... We ran back home, crying, or at least I was. Our mother went up to see what was the problem and met the old man. He hadn't had much to do with our neighbourhood, and was obviously lonely - she stayed quite a while, and soon she, my father and he became good friends, and remained so until his death many years later.
In fundraising, I used to use this story to illustrate how important it is to build relationships before asking someone for money, however in life I believe it is also important for us all to have relationships between generations. Not knowing any young people can breed fear in many of the older generation, they don't understand the music, the kids are so loud, they have tattoos, piercings - they don't follow rules. Kids think old people are grumpy, they always want 'us' to be quiet, their music is awful and the list goes on.... Intergenerational interactions are important for many reasons, not the least it provides understanding and wisdom, in both directions. Community can be built through interaction and understanding.
A goal I have is to build bridges between the elderly and youth. How can we bring older people into schools, developing conversations and maybe even friendship? When you provide an arena, you may be surprised at the people that come to play - free transit for elders to travel to school, teenagers taking shop can help build or repair small items that are broken; cookery classes can provide a nutritious meal for those visiting and a safe place for conversations for all; sewing can provide learnings from someone who has been making their own clothes for years... the value exchange often includes an important emotional exchange. I believe we need to stop putting walls and gates between generations, rather we should be opening doors and with them opportunities to learn and love - which in the end is what we all want.
Maybe, as the weather improves you could organize a street party so that everyone in your neighbourhood can get to know each other, set up an emergency plan so that no-one is forgotten in a disaster, or even spook your neighbours by saying hello and stopping to chat - I think you, and they, will be glad you did!
Maeve O'Byrne's Blog