There is an old adage that many of us have said for years and it goes something like: "Seek to understand before being understood." It is an important call to slow down, to listen, and to pay attention to the opinions and stories of those different from us.
Since returning to the Valley, I find myself challenged to put this into practice on a daily basis.
In my work, I spend a great deal of time with people much older than me (sorry, friends). As such, I have had to choose to ask questions and to listen to the answers - and in doing so, I have grown to appreciate and value the opinions and stories I hear.
Leaders across the Valley must adopt this adage - in organizations civic, political, charitable or religious - if we are to continue to move forward as a community. But instead of seeking to understand those older than them as I so often have to do, they must turn around and seek to understand those younger than them.
As I started writing this piece, I was aiming to write about how leaders across the Valley would do well to incorporate young people, especially people in their 20s and 30s, into their leadership teams in order to make our region attractive to young adults and to solve the perennial problem best expressed in the question, "Where have all the young people gone?"
But then I realized that I would be hard-pressed to find an organization that doesn't want young people involved with it, and that I would have a difficult time finding someone who doesn't want more young people present in the Valley.
But what I would easily find are people who are at best hesitant, and at worst outright unwilling, to make the changes necessary to bring young people along because it would mean that the status quo would have to change.
What's worse, we may find that leaders are interested in having young people join their boards and leadership teams, but only as long as they agree with the status quo. I find that some older folks are interested in my opinion, but that their interest fades when they find that I think differently from them. That is to say, they want to know what I think, but only as long as it's what they think.
Yet in sharp contrast to this attitude, I had an encouraging conversation with the president of a community organization in Warren. He asked me to join the executive committee of the organization and said, "I'll give you whatever you need, and you can feel free to ask me for whatever you need - even if it means I need to get out of the way."
Thus, we return to our adage: seeking to understand before being understood. The older generations in our Valley and in our city would do well to listen to those in their 20s and 30s in order to discover what our hopes and dreams are for our Valley. Older generations would do well to invite younger people onto their boards and committees and not just give them a voice to state their opinions, but give them a say to effect change across our area.
Doing so may mean that those older generations won't get what they want, and that the status quo changes. It may even mean that leaders of older generations may need to get out of the way, as my friend stated.
So this week, find someone younger than you - or older - take them out to lunch and ask them questions. Seek to understand. Ask them how they would attract young people to our area and what changes are necessary to do it. You're sure to be challenged by what you hear.
Tennant is a Warren resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org