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Kerrying On

Kerrying On: There’s Hope

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.

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Kerrying On

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Last week while talking with (and trying to impress) my two seventeen-year-old nieces, I mentioned that I had run into Robert Redford at his restaurant just up the hill from our home. The two stared at me with a gaze teenagers typically reserve for a lecture on the history of floor wax. After politely listening to me gush about Bob, one of the twins asked, “Who’s Robert Redhead?”

What?! They hadn’t seen The Sting?! They hadn’t watched Mr. Redford as the delightful Sundance Kid? Had the world gone mad? As I probed further, I learned Mr. Redford wasn’t the only older celebrity unknown to my nieces. In fact, the two were virtually unfamiliar with any stars, celebrities, or politicians of my generation. At first, I figured they didn’t watch TV or movies, but I quickly learned they could tell me the shade of Taylor Swift’s blush, write an entire book on Justin Bieber, and quote whole segments from Miley Cyrus’ latest movie.

How is it these two knew so much about their own times but virtually nothing of the movies, TV, or life experiences of anyone old enough to shave? When I was their age, even younger, I knew a great deal about my parents’ world—including their politicians, luminaries, and movie stars—because I watched dozens of films from the thirties and forties. In fact, I watched them with my parents.

As I congratulated myself on my own sense of history, it struck me that I had no reason to gloat. When I was growing up, my childhood world was perfectly organized to create an environment in which I not only associated with adults and adult things, but spent time learning and discussing life as it unfolded in front of us in our living rooms. We only had four TV channels and they were so lacking in programming that the stations gladly showed material from decades earlier—just to fill the airtime. And since we, like most families of the 50s, only had one TV set and most programs were family friendly, every evening we sat down together and watched a combination of old movies and primetime TV shows.

Why does any of this even matter? Realizing that my nieces were almost completely unaware of anything aged longer than, say, a can of Cheez Whiz got me to thinking. I began to mourn the loss of a simpler time when everyone—adults and children alike—could quote the same movies (“Badges! We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”) and discuss the same current events. A time when entertainment wasn’t so enormously segmented so as to appeal to only fourteen-year-old boys who own a video game system or twenty-one-year-old single women looking for love . . . or a wedding dress.

What is cultural entertainment actually doing for our culture? If it’s not bringing us together, there’s a good chance it’s driving us apart. I fear we’ll eventually become so segmented that members in a specific niche of the population will have little, if anything, to discuss with people outside their very specific demographic. By becoming increasingly diverse in our tastes and interests, I fear we are limiting our ability to relate to diverse populations—including our own nieces and nephews.

I was discussing this issue with my partner Ron, when he knocked me off my “old fogey” soapbox with a message of hope. He and his twelve-year-old son Ben were talking with a neighbor when his neighbor asked Ben, “So young man, what do you think was George Washington’s greatest contribution to the country?” (Apparently this neighbor wasn’t into small talk). After thinking for a second, Ben responded, “Resigning his commission as general before accepting the presidency.” Ben then went on to explain that disconnecting himself from the military had helped Washington shape the nation into a republic rather than into a military state.

As you might guess, Ron was proud of his son’s insightful remarks. He was also rather astonished. How had his twelve-year-old son developed such an informed opinion about such a weighty topic? It turns out Ben routinely watched and loved the History Channel where he had seen several episodes on Washington’s life.

So, there is hope. In the “good old days” we created a common culture by watching (and reading) old-fashioned stories, enthusiastically discussing current issues and events from the past, and jointly building values that were shaped and conveniently portrayed in their widely shared entertainment venues.

Today we can do the same, not in spite of but with the help of the latest resources. But, in my opinion, only if we use the tools wisely. We may have to switch off a few video games and skip past a dozen or so TV exposés covering celebrity shenanigans, but if we’re willing to search, there’s a great deal of terrific scientific, artistic, and historical material out there that we can and should experience with our friends, relatives, and loved ones.

Of course, it’ll take effort. It’s time we stopped retiring to separate rooms and engaging in separate electronic activities. Instead, pick a program (or a book) of substance, sit down, experience it with your children, friends, and family members, and then discuss the themes and concepts. Watch it at home where you can talk freely as the show unrolls. Pause and discuss issues and ideas. Revel in new scientific and historical discoveries. Roll back the clock and learn from the masters. Tell your own stories while giving people of all ages a chance to talk—each teaching the other.

In short, don’t be mauled by modernity. Master it. Use electronic tools that could easily fractionate and alienate to unite and illuminate. Make the language of your home the language of ideas steeped in history, vivified by art, and supported by science. Create a common culture. Better yet, couple the wisdom of ages with the efficiency of modern methods to create an uncommon common culture.

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Kerry Patterson

Cofounder of VitalSmarts, Kerry has coauthored four New York Times bestselling books as well as co-designed the company’s line of award-winning training programs. As author of our most popular column, Kerrying On, Kerry shares his vision, experience, and advice through fun and insightful stories from his past. read more

22 thoughts on “Kerrying On: There’s Hope”

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I live in a very small town in rural West Michigan and still only get 4 TV channels (or if we stand just right and balance the rabbit ears up to 6 channels.) I raised my children to know that the TV is the least important thing in the house and God and family always come first. The ‘next generation’ (my grandchildren) started out being homeschooled, and are now in a wonderful one-room country school. (Yes, they still exist!) The oldest is set on becoming an astronaut and the youngest, well he still wants to be ‘Lightening McQueen’ – we have a ways to go there, but he’s only 4. Most of the adults drive each day to work ‘in the city’ because that’s where the jobs are, but love the close knit culture of the rural community. Your stories always fit so closely with my family life (last summer I took the then 6-year old to Shedd’s Aquarium in Chicago – he was happy to assist the tour guide it came to information about sharks – one of his passions.) Before this turns into a novella, I will conclude by saying, I truly enjoy your submissions and often print and send on to my parents (in their 80’s) who also thoroughly enjoy them and often pass them on. Again, thank you for focusing on family values in combination with today’s many modern culture and conveniences. God Bless.

  2. Great article! Covers the need for conscious use of technology as well as the wonderful opportunities for youth who are coached to use technology consciously. There’s a convergence of generations right now that offers great opportunities. The boomers falling back to their 60’s roots as they retire and are looking to make a difference in the world, and the youth who have been raised on technology and rapid results. With their drive to make things happen fast and our experience, world change for the better is just around the corner!

  3. I agree, Kerry! I felt that I had done a pretty good job of passing on some of my cultural values to my children when they could appreciate Mozart and Vivaldi, as well as Queen and the Beatles. My husband and I read Tolkien, James Clavell and the Harry Potter books aloud to each other, sometimes in the presence of our children and sometimes not. But they grew up knowing that we appreciated a good book and discussion about the characters as well. Now that they are pretty much grown up, we enjoy watching movies together, and both my “children”, aged 26 and almost 21, have turned us on to ome great movie and book suggestions. There is indeed hope!!

  4. Nice article. Beneath the superficial layer of common experience in the old days, there was a deeper commonality of Judeo Christian values through which events and opinions were evaluated. Post Modernism has systematically destroyed the edifice of these values in favor of person-centric values, or “do what you feel…as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.” And yet this very attitude harms our children more than any direct physical abuse. It causes themt to believe that all values are relative and so there is no longer good and evil, only my opinions. Humpty Dumpty has truly cracked into a million pieces to the cheers of postmodern professors everywhere. You cannot escape it, even on Television. If there is hope, it is that we all seek the excesses of this value-neutral society we have created and rediscover right versus wrong.

  5. I’m happy to say that my sons, including the youngest son, although he’s of a ripe, old age of 23, was raised seeing my favorite movies, some of my favorite books (that were age apropriate)and hearing my favorite music, etc. He now collects old records and and they all collect old movies. What great opportunites I had to discuss with them what was going on and why people wrote what the wrote, sang what they sang, and made movies that they made. A couple we still all enjoy watching together are some of my all time favorites – The Great Escape and Fiddler on the Roof. Thanks for sharing your story!

  6. Loved this insight and what’s followed in the comment section. (I, too, was shocked to find my daughter didn’t know who Robert Redford was. Worse still, she didn’t swoon when I forced her to watch a rerun of Oprah’s Redford/Streisand reunion.)

    The dance with technology is a tricky one. Even if you’re “doing it right” at home, it’s amazing what they’re exposed to. Check out http://www.missinformation.org to see more about the crazy messages we create about girs/women. Getting worse, not better I fear. Makes it even more important to have thoughtful conversations with your kids.

  7. When you say, “switch off a video game,” it seems to me you are back up on your soap box. Maybe I this point of view because I am 31 and sort of an in between the generations, but I think if you want to have something in common with the younger generations, you cannot assume that THEY are the ones missing out on YOUR generation’s interests. That is the idea I get from your article. I’m sure a parent willing to pick up a controller can learn something about their child and his/her generation and where their quotes and catch phrases come from.

  8. It’s a good suggestion, Kerry, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s realistic. The digital and electronic devices that young people live by today, while supposedly providing advanced methods of connecting, are really driving them into isolation. Each new ‘app’ takes them a little bit further apart. Speaking of nieces, my partner and I currently have a very rewarding relationship with our 4 year old niece, ‘Louie’, but we know we are on borrowed time. Sooner or later, she will start rowing off to own metaphoric islands and we won’t be able to follow.

  9. I love your anecdotes and insights Kerry. I always look forward to receiving the latest ‘Kerrying On’

    I found Crucial Conversations very valuable indeed and look forward to reading the new edition.

  10. I love the topic of this article. However, I think the issue isn’t so much that we have more channels from which to choose, but rather that certain younger age groups are exposed almost solely to content of their own choosing. That is, when I was in college (ok, in a J school), I was extremely interested in current events, and read everything I could find (pre-internet). The internet provides a different sort of filter, where people can automatically sort out topics or views that don’t appeal to them. Doing so years ago took a lot more work. The result then was that you had to consider different views, simply because it was more difficult to avoid them altogether. I do agree that previous generations seemed more able to relate to other generations’ experienced more than today’s youth. Thanks again for great food-for-thought!

  11. I don’t know. Maybe their parents didn’t value those things enough to share them with their kids. My son is 13 and he is probably the only one in his class who can name all the Marx Brothers, identify a Beach Boys or Beatles song almost instantly and tell you several interesting facts about Elvis. He is also quite knowledgeable about the Civil War (thanks to us listening to Gone w/the Wind on CD), the mysteries of the Vatican (Angels and Demons) and several facts about Michaelangelo (Da Vinci Code). Right now I have him reading Watchers by Dean Koontz. I like to share stuff like this with my sons and for the most part, they seem to enjoy it. The marketers are going to push all this teen-targeted stuff because it sells stuff for them, but you can always just say no.

  12. YES, there is hope! For this hope to grow and flourish, however, we need more parents to engage and connect with their kids instead of allow them to be plugged them into electronics 24/7. Converse with each other….turn off the television, the laptop, the video game, the ipod, the ipad, the phone…..and just be with each other. Invest time, stories, conversation, and ideas with each other. It is from this time that the sharing of past, present and future will occur. Thanks for another great article Kerry!

  13. I really have to agree with Patrick above, even though I am from a generation older than Patrick, I truly believe that the learning goes both ways. Do you really think that there have been no good movies or actors or any history made in the last 20 years? Sure, I love to share things from my generation with my kids, but I also love to learn about what they are into – there’s a lot of great movies, music, etc. coming out every day. There is no reason to be “stuck” in a certain era as we age.

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