Saturday, March 28, 2009

Quiet listening

Last week  I wrote about our weekly Anderson Hall meetings of Resident Assistants with the Resident Director and, in the background, me.  If one is seeking optimism about today’s young men and women, an Anderson Hall weekly staff meeting is a great place to find it.  It can also provide useful lessons about how old people should relate to young people.

I have observed some Asian families that get it right.  When I lived in Honolulu, many years ago, my first wife and I often dined at a local Chinese eating place  with an improbable name, the McCully Chop Suey Restaurant.  Often, the only other diners would be Chinese, including large Chinese families, sometimes spanning four generations. Sitting in a place of honor would be and old grandfather, or grandmother, or both.  New arrivals would greet them deferentially.  A small child might sit close to them for a moment, before rejoining her sisters, brothers and cousins.  A young man might proudly introduce his new girl friend, who would smile shyly.  The old persons rarely spoke, but it was clear they were part of the gathering, included and respected.

Perhaps the memory picture I have painted is idealized.  Every family has its tribulations and I know that multigenerational Asian families - Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Sri Lankan - are no exception.  But I like to think that the old people I saw had earned the respect they were tendered by schooling themselves to be quiet listeners.  

A quiet listener, of an older generation, who has learned how to be an accepted and welcomed, but scarcely noticed part of a young people’s gathering will hear things that are banal, amazing, disturbing and surprising, but mostly reassuring.  It is rare that I do not leave such gatherings with renewed energy - and optimism.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home