The Grand Alliance

Grandparents and grandchildren have a natural alliance. Both have inevitable conflicts and competition with the generation between them, but the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is insulated from parent-child tensions. The same sort of alliance potentially holds true to some extent with generations, such as over 65ers and those under 35.

Some recent examples in my life illustrated such alliances. In a class on the Jewish settling in Palestine, which later became Israel, we discussed the first immigration, or Aliyah. From about 1882-1903, the immigrants who came from pogroms in Russia, and also Europe, tended to be the idealistic young and the elderly. The middle generation was less well represented. A novel, The Blue Mountain by Meir Shalev, describes that period in the style of magic realism. It focuses on a philosophically-minded grandfather and his grandson who was orphaned at two when a terrorist bomb killed his parents.

Just before this class, on September 29th, I read an article in the New York Times, “’Open Mind’ Host Continues Grandfather’s Vision for New Generation.” I suppose this would be any grandfather’s dream. I know it would be mine, for a grandchild to take up your life work. The article describes how Alexander Heffner, 24 years old, became host of public television’s “The Open Mind,” which his grandfather, Richard D. Heffner, hosted for 56 years until his death last December. “My grandfather was my mentor,” Alexander said. He intends to find a new generation of guests to discuss public policy from different angles and to use social media to build the audience. The grandmother, Elaine Heffner, is still involved as the executive producer. (That she is a psychotherapist may also help her grandson in developing relationships.)

I happen to love jazz music, so I quickly read the October 3rd New York Times article “A Rare Mentorship, Captured with Heart and Soul,” in which A. O. Scott reviews the new film, “Keep on Keepin’ On.” The movie portrays the relationship of the 28 year old pianist, Justin Kauflin, and the 92 year old trumpeter great, Clark Terry. They are also joined in their illnesses and their musicality; Mr. Kauflin is blind, while Mr. Terry has diabetes.

One final, though major, example occurred with the October 10th announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. The prize was shared by 17 year old Malala Yousafza and 60 year old Kailash Satyarthi, joined together in their quest for the education and well-being of all children. Besides joining together a youth and a grandparent-aged person, they connect a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, and a young woman and an elderly man.

One would hope, then, that such generational alliances could have political viability to address many long-term problems in society, ranging from healthcare funding to climate change. This was the concept behind the founding of the Gray Panthers, one of whose central values is “unifying the generations” on behalf of social justice, evidenced in the organization’s original name – “Consultation of Older and Younger Adults for Social Change.”

Perhaps as the jazz song goes, “Now is the Time” to reclaim that slogan and do what it says. The examples I’ve encountered indicate the potential for that generational alliance. If the Gray Panthers aren’t able to sustain a movement for intergenerational collaboration, can a new organization be established in its stead? It could be named The Grand Alliance.

Steven Moffic, M.D., 67, retired from clinical practice at 66. He was fondly deemed a “psychiatric gadfly” by the Chair of the Department of Psychiatry where he first trained. His book The Ethical Way: Challenges and Solutions for Managed Behavioral Healthcare, published in 1997, was the first extended discussion of the ethics of managed mental health care. In addition to his posts on Over 65, he blogs at Psychiatric Times as well.

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