But would you listen?

generation gap

So, I asked last week what you would tell twenty-year-old you, and got a few answers, here and from other sources.  I am happy to report that most people didn’t come back with huge regrets, and most of the responses were along the lines of “keep on keeping on.”

My knee jerk reaction is to tell that young man not to do so many stupid things he was already doing, and more to come.  Two hits of triple dip (yeah, six hits of acid) was a really stupid idea.  Riding on the luggage rack?  Fun at the time and makes for a great story, but could just as easily have ended in Mom bailing me out of jail, or worse, identifying my not so pretty corpse.  But young and stupid go hand in hand all too often.

Don’t get a dog; your landlord is going to evict you.  Don’t give in to your passions; they will lead to heartache.  Don’t steal, cheat, lie; you will have to answer for it someday, either to the (often unwitting) victims or at least to yourself and your God.  On the other hand, I’m tempted to tell him to follow his bliss, for he will make many of his best decisions on the spur of the moment.

Don’t doubt yourself.  Don’t give up the clarinet in eighth grade over a less than encouraging teacher.  Don’t stop writing in college over the fear of opening yourself like that to the class.  (They’re just as scared, probably.)  Don’t not move on simply because change is more difficult than uncomfortable conformity.

This is my first answer to the question, and although so many told me that they wouldn’t change a thing (and I do believe them), we are still fond of the phrase “If I only knew then what I know now.”

Consider this question as an addendum: “Would you have listened?”  If future you had come to you in your youth, could it possibly have made any difference?

Wait.  Somebody did tell me all those things.  My parents, teachers, older brother, books, movies, music.  I had that wisdom, but chose not to use it.

(There is a happy ending.  I’m still alive, I’m writing, I’m a more honest person these days, illicit drug use is a distant memory, I’ve lived in the same place for seven years now.  And I’m happy most days, for most of the day.)

So here’s my follow up question:  “Will they listen to you?”  Many of you are parents, and if you’re not, you’re aunts, uncles, big brothers/sisters.  It’s difficult not having some influence on the generations that follow us.

How will you make them listen?  Can you?

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4 Responses to But would you listen?

  1. My daughter listened to me the three times I chose to give her advice; I’m glad about two of those choices, not about the third, even though I thought I was giving her good advice at the time. Part of the trick is to offer only in the most pressing circumstances and be sincere and honest. The most important thing is to be the kind of person your kids will listen to; the reason I didn’t listen to my parents — unfortunately, because they had a lot of real life experience.

    • Sorry to take so long to respond to these. You make a good point, Katherine. I think that choosing that battles is important. If those with the power to influence give their opinion about everything, the really important advice can get lost in a sea of noise.

  2. ED Martin says:

    I don’t think you can force anyone to listen when you give advice, now matter how poignant and important it is. After several years teaching high school to at-risk kids who don’t listen to ANY one, I’ve found the best thing you can do is advise by example. Live your dreams, make your mistakes, and when it comes time to give advice, discuss what worked for you and what didn’t, and why. If it comes through that you’re living the best life you can, as honestly and humanly as you can, people will be more likely to listen. They don’t want a patronizing lecture; they want someone they can connect with, who obviously cares about their well-being.

    • I think that’s important as well, ED. “What worked for you and what didn’t.” If you come across as a fellow human with your own failings, you’re on a more even footing and it doesn’t sound condescending, an attitude that closes minds to new ideas.

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