Do Our Generational Differences Divide Us?

By Lauren Kotkin, Exponent Philanthropy

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A friend’s older cousin is a World War II veteran, a bombardier who spent 8 months in a German camp for prisoners of war. He wrote a book about his experiences, and I finished it quickly, completely taken by his detailed storytelling. The politics he sprinkled throughout? Not as much appreciated by this reader and very much in contrast to my own. But they in no way colored my enjoyment of the book, because I understand that his views are a direct result of his life experiences—and similar to many in his Traditionalist generation.

On the recent Exponent Philanthropy webinar Multiple Generations at the Table, I was intrigued by the generational descriptions given by Danielle Oristian York at 21/64, an organization that works to bridge generational differences in philanthropy. I’d heard many before, and like Danielle, I have Gen X pride and agree with most of how Gen X is described. If the shoe fits, as they say.

But how would I serve on the same foundation board with someone like my friend’s cousin? How would we find common ground given our different paths, different generations, and different truths?

That’s where the speakers came into play. Bobby Thalhimer and his daughter Jill Thalhimer Campbell are a Baby Boomer and Millennial. It was a pleasure listening to them discuss their shared giving—in particular, their shared values. Both grew up in homes where giving time, talent, and treasure was the norm. Both want to continue to give and enjoy each other’s company and that of other family members.

Although the Thalhimers no longer have a foundation, they continue—across the generations—to learn together. The family gathers to hear speakers on subjects that matter to giving. It is not a situation where the elders educate the youth or vice versa. Since the speakers offer new information for all, the playing field is equalized, so to speak. There’s opportunity for questions, discussion, and further understanding.

My impression, garnered from this family’s experience, is that generations have much more in common than in contrast, from our humanity and shared desire to give to our desire to discover and learn.

What bridges generational gaps in your family’s or board’s giving?

Related Resources

Lauren KotkinSenior Program Director Lauren Kotkin joined Exponent Philanthropy’s educational programs team in 2007 and plans conferences, seminars, conference calls and webinars. Before moving to Washington, DC, in 2005, Lauren was the education director of a children’s museum near Boston, managing the facility and developing and delivering programs for educators, museum colleagues, children, and families.

3 thoughts on “Do Our Generational Differences Divide Us?

  1. Lauren, this is relevant to ALL of us: We’ll quickly sink our own ships if we can’t work together across age and politics. Our foundation (Skees Family Foundation) strives to bring all 30 members in 3 generations together through online communication and grantmaking–e.g., a conservative member family in the Midwest volunteers for the Boy Scouts, while a sibling member on the West Coast marches for gay marriage. Our family always comes back together over good food, family reunions, and core values: love in action, equality for all, and respect across difference.

    Thanks for your thoughtful commentary . . . What was the name of that book, anyway?

    • Agreed, Suzanne! And I like what you said about defining core values that bind you as a family, particularly “respect across difference.” That resonates for me and is a good lesson for all. The book is “A Measure of A Life” by Herman Cranman.

  2. Pingback: Top Posts of 2013 | PhilanthroFiles

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