'We are not disconnected at all'

Intergenerational Forum reveals more unity than conflict

Most Facebook, Twitter and other social media feeds these days are chock full of ill-mannered, heated exchanges and differing viewpoints. But that may not be completely reflective of the country’s current cultural climate – at least if you gauge it by the turn of events at last week’s 2nd Annual Intergenerational Forum (IGF), where representatives of two age groups came together to exchange ideas on three issues impacting society today.

“Take a second and conjure up an image in your minds of the person who has been most influential in your life,” IGF founder and Daniel Island resident Fred Danziger told those gathered in his introductory comments. “That person you might be thinking of is probably not your same age.”

And with that Danziger officially opened this year’s program, held at the Bishop England High School Performing Arts Center on March 7. Featured on the panel were four high school seniors and four senior citizens: Max Bodach, Bishop England High School; Trent Pagliarini, Hanahan High School; Lia Hsu-Rodriguez; Wando High School; Autumn Turner, Palmetto Scholars Academy; Bill Payer, retired TV news executive; Tom Pinckney, retired college professor and lawyer; Bob Sauer, retired from the information technology industry; and Carl Stoll, a current administrative law judge and retired Chicago police officer. The program was sponsored by The Daniel Island News with support from the Daniel Island Community Fund.

“The most important thing we hope this forum highlights is that the best vertical connections are those that have mutual benefit,” continued Danziger. “We should not look at one generation as the problem and the other as the cure. We should learn from one another.”

And that they did. First tackling the issue of incivility in today’s world. All agreed that discourse in general can often turn rude and hateful, as opposed to respectful and accepting. Many on the panel felt courteous and considerate behavior can be taught at home, at school, and by our leaders.

“Leadership sets examples for those looking to them for guidance, instead of perpetuating incivility through their own improper actions,” said Rodriguez, who recommended starting a national public education program on how to conduct polite conversations. “Local leaders should do the same things – begin peaceful collaboration between high schools to encourage working with someone from a different background. Setting examples for civil collaboration is a stepping stone for restoring national civility.”

“To start acts of civility, you have to start small,” added Stoll. “Listening to someone without interrupting, letting someone express their opinion, especially someone whose opinion you are diametrically opposed to, and then answering in a calm way.”

Most concurred that forums such as this one can go a long way towards helping to heal divides. To Pagliarini, self-awareness of the problem is key.

“Once we realize the effect we have on other people, that is where our progress is going to come,” he said.

Next the group moved on to the topic of technology and whether or not it is helping or harming interpersonal relationships. Panelists in both age groups agreed that the digital revolution has increased connectivity, but they also recognized its negative impacts as well.

“Don’t confuse a plethora of platforms with more communication,” said Payer. “Much of what we’re putting on screens isn’t communicating...It’s not communication until you send a message, it’s received, understood and acted on...90 percent of what’s being transmitted on social media doesn’t meet that criteria. The second thing that concerns me the most is tonality. There is no tonality with a text.”

“Language is forever changing,” added Turner, who has used technology to help her connect with students like herself around the globe. “...It’s awesome that we can express our feelings with emojis. But we also need to put down our screens and see the world.”

“I think we’re losing the ability to have a deep meaningful conversation,” stated Bodach. “While technology has brought some tangible benefits, it’s also really harming our ability to relate to one another.”

Finally, the panelists addressed the issue of immigration – and what should be done about the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in this country.

“I think that it’s a problem that needs addressing,” stated Pinckney. “But boy we need so much more understanding than we have now. We just don’t have the knowledge base to come up with even an approach to a good solution.”

For Bodach and Rodriguez, the topic is very personal. Both have immediate family members who immigrated to this country – Bodach’s mother is from India and Rodriguez’s mother is from Libya.

“Our founding fathers and the people who built our country from the ground up immigrated to our shores from Europe, where they faced tyrannical rule, religious persecution, and other hardships they sought to escape,” said Rodriguez. “...They were in search of a new life...The 11 million undocumented people who came to our country were searching for the same thing. To leave them stuck in a purgatorial existence defies the values our country was founded on...They should be given governmental assistance to obtain visas and status as citizens...Barring their right to the American dream wouldn’t be very American of us.”

“Dealing with this issue requires an equal measure of compassion and justice,” added Bodach. “I don’t think there is any perfect plan to tackle this...The solution requires compromise.”

In the last question of the evening, the panelists were asked what they learned from each other during the program. In the end, they found that each generation wasn’t as closed-minded as they may have originally thought. Both were open to listening and hearing the others’ points of view.

“We see our generations as being completely separate – that the younger generations have completely different values than older generations,” added Rodriguez. “But I think what’s really cool is that we seem to be on the same page on a lot of different things.”

“I am very impressed with the whole panel,” stated Payer. “But particularly the young people. I feel a little better about my social security now! I almost wish there had been a little bit more friction.”

“I noticed that we are not disconnected at all,” said Turner. “Both of us are learning to adapt to our ever-changing world.”

“This forum has certainly been reassuring to me,” added Pagliarini. “Coming in with eight different people, all different ages, different backgrounds, most likely different views, we were all able to come together and have a civil conversation, and come to a somewhat similar conclusion on each of these three issues. It really shows me that despite how large the age gap might be, we really are not all that different. And it speaks volumes to what the future of the United States looks like and what society looks like.”

Serving as judges for the student presentations were Kate Jerome, award-winning author, publishing executive, intergenerational expert and 2016 TedX Charleston speaker; Anthony Dixon, principal of Philip Simmons Middle School; and Jane Baker, vice president of community services for the Daniel Island Property Owners Association. After scoring sheets were tabulated by the judges, Lia Hsu-Rodriguez was recognized as the event’s top high school presenter. She earned a $1000 grant for her participation. Autumn Turner was first runner up, followed by Trent Pagliarini and Max Bodach.

The senior citizen panelists commended all who took part in the event, but reserved special praise for their high school counterparts. Sauer in particular recognized the younger group’s depth of talent.

“If that’s the caliber of people who are going to be running things in this state and this country in the next 20 years, I feel pretty darn good about it!” he said.

Pinckney called the session “eye-opening.”

“These four young people are much more tuned in to current events and the world – and I hope like crazy that they are reflective of other young people...I can’t applaud them enough.”

For Danziger, the 2017 IGF was another mission accomplished.

“Here we have the true meeting of the minds,” he said. “A blending of a senior’s time-tested experience with youthful, out-of-the-box imaginative ideas and enthusiasm on topics that are meaningful to both generations. It’s so vitally important that we have this conversation.”

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