We’re slowly recovering from the damaging loneliness felt globally throughout the pandemic. Think about it. Typically, we have two main places where we interact with others: work and home. Of course, many people live alone, work remotely, or do both.
That’s why there’s a growing need to combat isolation by participating in a safe, consistent “third” space. Even better if it’s intergenerationally woven, like a community center, faith-based congregation, local coffee shop, or even a virtual clubhouse like our IN TRANSIT Hub.
BIG NEWS! In case you missed previous announcements, podcasts will now *also* be available on VIDEO! So you can listen, read, or watch the episodes right here. Additionally, they’ll be released through a new Bean Pod format; three threaded episodes, followed by an introspective break week.
Welcome to the second part of our Bean Pod featuring professionals disrupting norms. I’m honored to have Rabbi Hayim Herring join us to discuss how intergenerational communities enhance our societies and improve our quality of life.
An expert intergenerational bridge-builder, Rabbi Herring holds a Ph.D., is an author several times over, and is the C.E.O. of HayimHerring.com. His work prepares today’s leaders for tomorrow’s organizations.
Today, Rabbi Herring will share his life-prolonging wisdom, and advice on fostering a stronger community in our highly polarized times. He’ll also discuss his next project which centers on combating social isolation and connecting generations in the digital age.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Renaissance instead of retirement
- The footlong submarine generation
- Mindfully shaping a more vibrant reality
- Waiting to be invited to take on a role
- Developing a posture of curiosity
Listen to the Full Episode
Featured on the Show:
Do you want to transform your organization from multigenerational to intergenerational? We can help! Get in touch right here and let’s chat.
- Sundae’s Website
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Sundae Bean – YouTube
- Wisdom Fusion Project
- Connecting Generations: Bridging the Boomer, Gen X, and Millennial Divide (Rowman and Littlefield 2019)
- The sandwich generation
- Hayim Herring – LinkedIn
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, It is 10:00 pm in New York, 4:00 pm in Johannesburg, and 9:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to IN TRANSIT with Sundae Bean. I am an intercultural strategist, transformation facilitator, and solution-oriented coach, and I am on a mission to help you adapt & succeed through ANY life transition.
If I’m being honest, loneliness, social isolation, and polarization are three of the most painful things I’ve experienced. And who hasn’t experienced some or all of that since 2020? Questions I have are: How do we cope? What can we do to reduce the sting of these experiences or even prevent them? And I think the answer is much more simple than you’d expect, and it’s connected to intergenerational relationships.
Our special guest today Rabbi Hayim Herring offers answers in his book Connecting Generations. Rabbi Hayim Herring, thank you for being here on IN TRANSIT.
Hayim: Thank you. Good morning.
Sundae: So I want to share more about the book but first, let me acknowledge your own place of being in transit right now. You have so kindly agreed to be together today even though you’re recovering from surgery. So I thank you for your impromptu ability to find a space in your home where you can be comfortable in this process. So thank you for your flexibility today.
Hayim: Well, thank you for allowing me to be a guest, first of all, and to be a guest from my bedroom, which has become my study, my dining room because the surgery wasn’t planned before our home remodel was, but I have a sense of humor. There’s some irony in this, I guess, and maybe a metaphor. I feel like the remodeling of my home to adapt to COVID, is sending me a message about the interior remodeling that I have to do. So apologies for the background but hey, that’s life today and we just have to learn to not just to accept it but to embrace it.
Sundae: Absolutely. And for those of you who are also watching the video version of this, you can see my mother from the 60s in the background and some beauty pageant option. So, we are both in transit in some way. So, thank you for being here.
I want to share a little bit about your book for those who have not yet read Connecting Generations, it’s actually how I came across your work. Connecting Generations, identifies and analyzes these phenomena I was talking about before; Loneliness, social isolation, and polarization. You probably wouldn’t expect that when you pick up a book called Connecting Generations, but it offers so much more than analysis of what’s happening. Like a precursor to what we need to look out for. It also supports us in becoming more empathetic for ourselves and others. And offers direction on how we can shape more mindfully a vibrant reality, as you say in the book for ourselves from our immediate communities, and for society at large. So, what you’re doing is big.
I’m gonna give the listeners also, a little background on who you are and what you bring to this conversation. Rabbi Hayim Herring is Ph.D. and CEO of HayimHerring.com and coaches nonprofit leaders in entrepreneurship, anticipatory leadership, and intergenerational relationships. His mission is preparing today’s leaders for tomorrow’s organizations. Wow, that’s what we need right now since everything is shifting. He’s also served as a congressional Rabbi for Beth El Synagogue in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is an assistant director of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation, and is the founding director of STAR (Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal).
There’s many more things in addition to scholarly work, popular articles, but what I’m most excited about as well, is your forthcoming work, Calling Generation to Generation in Digital Age. So, how did you get here, Hayim? Tell us a little bit more about what led you to this point where you’re talking about intergenerational relationships, isolation, connection and all of it.
Hayim: As a very young Rabbi starting out in a congregation in 1985 in Minneapolis, after being in school, for many, many years. No one had ever prepared me for the fact that in the morning, I might be working with preschool children, in the afternoon I might be working with retired people, men, women, maybe in a book club. Afternoon teaching high school kids, and in the evening out again at a meeting typically with leaders. I learned quickly that one-size-fits-all and how to approach people was a recipe for failure. And I found a book, I think it was one of the first on generations, called, Generations at Work. Turns out that it was written by someone in Minneapolis who passed away at a young age. And I feel like I’m spiraling back now and have time now to devote to a topic that’s really been dear to my heart. And that’s why one can never predict how an interest that starts off early will blossom later.
Sundae: Absolutely, that’s beautiful. So you and I were speaking before about how we’re facing all of these challenges due to COVID, due to history, context, identity, all of these things that are happening, not just in the US where you’re located, but globally. Can you say a little bit more about why? What we were saying that intergenerational relationships are what I believe a old solution for new problems? Can you say more about what you’ve noticed about the benefits of being in community across generations?
Hayim: Sure. I have generally agreed that we have an old solution to a new problem but I think we also have to adapt that old solution. And what I mean is, before people talked about the sandwich generation, I think it was a sociologist by the name of Dorothy Miller who coined that term back in 1981, early 80s. Back then the sandwich generation and I check this out, I think an average slice of sandwich bread is something like 4 to 6 inches square, right? The sandwich metaphor is there’s a slice on top, a slice on the bottom, something in the middle. The person in the middle was typically a woman who was raising children, taking care of elderly parents or in-laws, trying to maintain a job. So you had the caretaking the children in the bottom and the caretaking of the elders on the top.
Today I think depending on where you live, it’s more like a hoagie or submarine generation. And it’s a foot long and we have not six but seven generations now. So it can’t really be a sandwich. And the other thing that’s different is that it used to be that only one generation typically felt certain pressures, might be retirement, might be health. But now everybody is vulnerable. It might be the Boomer parent who’s out of work or the Gen-Xer who is being challenged by a Millennial and may lose a job right now. Or the economy, the way it is. And maybe it’s a younger person who is actually enjoying work. So we’re all – that’s why we need each other. Right? I mean, we all have to think about not to continue the food metaphor but being Jewish food is a big part of community. It’s like we have to feed each other.
There’s a wonderful story about the difference between Heaven and Hell. In Hell, everyone is sitting in front of a sumptuous banquet but their elbows are locked. In Heaven, it’s the same thing. But the difference is that people feed each other across the table.
And that’s what I think is so wonderful when you make those connections. It’s good for the soul, it’s good for wisdom, it’s good for life. I mean, literally, it’s life-prolonging. We become excited by learning new things, by meeting new people, and America I believe is the most age-segregated society in the Western World. So we’ve got a problem.
Sundae: It’s awful. Yeah and combine that with the level of ageism that is recorded. It makes it far more complicated. All right so this is big. So through your work that you’ve done in the past and are working on? What are some of the myths that you are hoping to debunk in the world and if that language doesn’t resonate? What are the messages that you’re hoping to help communicate that aren’t yet in our consciousness.
Hayim: Okay, so that’s a great question by the way. So let’s talk about the myth part. First, I want to use Boomers even though they are on their way out, finally, I’m one of them. *laughter*
Hayim: I mean, we do have to make room. I want to talk about the case of a Boomers versus Millennials a kind of mini case study. Because as you point out in your podcast the context will change, the labeles, generational labels will change. But the reality of having four or five generations in the workplace with mutual stereotyping will not change. So as a part of my research and it was really hard as a Boomer to not respond to the Millennials, but I had my research hat on. So I asked Millennials when you hear the word, “Boomer,” what do think of? What comes to mind?
So, for Millennials, they perceive Boomers, first of all, “What’s wrong with their bucket list? Why can’t they have fun while they work?” And, “Why do they think that they are entitled?” This was Millennials calling Boomers entitled, meaning by dint of their age or seniority, they just assume they’ll be in a leadership position. “All they care about is work. They’re obsessed with work. They don’t know how to have fun. They don’t want to relinquish anything.”
And then when I asked Boomers their perception of Millennials, they use words like, “Snowflake,” which is really demeaning. What they talked about was, “They want to kick the bucket, they want to have fun now. That’s not the way we used to do it. They’re pleasure seekers. They can’t commit. They’re indecisive. They’re insecure.”
So what I took away from this is that no one has a monopoly on stereotyping and each generation stereotypes the other. So that’s the myth part.
Sundae: I want to just talk about the stereotypes for a second because this, and I know this through research but maybe our listeners don’t. What I’ve learned in this process is that those stereotypes are, I want to say exaggerations or even fabrications when we look at the data, right? That people attribute it to that other group, but it might be based of phase of life where it might be actually just not true and something exploded into our consciousness because it was a click baitey title from media. And this I think is really important because as an interculturalist when we have a stereotype and we engage with someone and we’re looking for that affirmation, we’re actually looking for evidence that it’s true. We do not see the full person and we might also see something that isn’t even there. And I think that’s dangerous. It’s dangerous for our relationships. It’s also dangerous, I think, for our sense of self because then we might also believe the stereotypes about what they say about our generation and sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It just is so limiting,
Hayim: I’m so glad that you followed up with that question. So, when I interviewed Millennials and my children are Millennials. I didn’t interview them, but I’ve gotten to know them quite well over the years and their friends. They have really big hearts. They’re not all about pleasure. I interviewed Millennials who were volunteering for the Special Olympics, who were on a crisis hotline, who were like a big brother or big sister, who were giving back to their communities, like totally out of line with the stereotype of “pleasure seekers.”
And then of course I interviewed Boomers who just relish having someone to mentor. And not the control, but really to mentor, genuinely to share experience, skills, to share power, to share authority, to provide emotional support because our Millennial children are, I would say, somewhat more fragile. Their sense of self is not as secure. And the stereotypes are so damaging because you can dislike or even hate a stereotype, but in that real meeting, it’s more likely that you’re going to wind up really connecting with them. And that’s where the phrase perennial for me is so important. I didn’t coin the term. I’m using it differently than the person who did so I have a black thumb. I could actually make an artificial plant die and it takes a lot of skill.
Sundae: I think we’re soul mates.
Hayim: *laughter* I mean, I can’t help it. I grew up in Philly, I lived in New York. It’s terrible, the only time I used the shovel was at the cemetery. It’s a terrible thing to say. But some friends of mine, good friends are gardeners. One day a friend of mine was talking about his perennials and describing how it’s the same root system, but every year, the flowers die off, they form seeds for the next iteration, they’re nourished from the same root system. But they look different, but you could also see similarities. And I was stopped in my tracks. I thought, “Wow, that is the human task,” right? It’s really to relinquish that which has restrained us. To retain that which is still helpful. And then, to make sure that we’re planting seeds for renewal that still has some continuity with the past. It doesn’t matter what age you are, you may not have the awareness depending upon your human development stage, that that’s what you’re a part of. But that’s something that I think by making – by articulating explicitly we can be reminded, “Oh, we each have a role in this. We have a stake in one another’s success.”
Sundae: No, no. That’s so beautiful because when I hear that I also hear that growth, it’s in our design if we’re doing it in a way that is intended so to speak. And it made me think of a quote that I came across when I was preparing for this interview, it’s from Fred Small. And he talks about, “Perhaps the greatest justice issue of all is intergenerational theft. The Eighth Commandment says, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ But every day we live unsustainably, we steal from our children and their children.”
So this idea of like our we are stewards of our lives, of our community, but also of generations that follow us. I don’t – I don’t know how often I hold that awareness in my own planning, in my own goals, right? But it is like you said it’s embedded in who we are as a humanity. Right?
Hayim: I’m not sure that I held this awareness until maybe I reached age 50. Which was extremely liberating because I really felt like I was at a point where, of course, I wanted to be sensitive and empathetic to people, but it became very important to be more of what I believe in and what I value. So maybe it’s the responsibility of those who are at this stage to make more explicit what it is that we share. And it never goes down well to lecture people. Like for people who are older to lecture people who are younger. But I think it’s in the shared work that we can do, that we can model those kinds of conversations. And I still don’t garden, but I love the idea of community garden, both for the metaphor and also for the opportunity to get to know people of different generations. Those kinds of activities are very fruitful. I think for restoring those connections.
Sundae: Yeah, I think that is a beautiful comparison. And I always talk about this idea of, “You can’t hate who you love.” Like, we can’t demonize or stereotype people that we actually care about and it’s hard to not care about someone when you are in community with them and creating something beautiful together. And that’s bigger than the crossing of age boundaries, right? We’re talking about ethnic boundaries, racial boundaries, political boundaries. I think there’s a lot that could be learned from that. So the other question that I started talking about was like, what do you wish was in our consciousness when you think about your book? Your Connecting Generations book and the one that’s coming. What are some core messages you hope that people hold on to?
Hayim: Sure, one of them is one of your ongoing themes in your work and that is empowerment. It doesn’t take an act of congress for somebody to reach out to another person in their community, their neighbor. To reach out to an organization that either offers mentoring opportunities or other kinds of volunteer opportunities, where you get to interact with people of different generations. It doesn’t take some sort of legal authority and I know this is risky today but when you’re standing in line – one of the Millennials whom I interviewed suggested this. She said, “When I’m standing in line at a grocery store sometimes I’ll just strike up a conversation with someone. And if I see someone older, especially, I’ll say boy, ‘I really like the coat that you’re wearing.’” And it’s just sort of multiplying these little kinds of acts on the structural level.
Why is it that we segregate ourselves in terms of housing? I hate the idea of a retirement community. First of all, I don’t like the word retirement because for me, it’s more like renaissance. If somebody asked me, “Are you retired?” I’m going to say, “No, I’m renaissanced.” because now –
Sundae: I’m going to use that one. But I think you have to start gardening if you’re going to be a renaissance man, you have to garden.
Hayim: Okay, well, we have a few plants on our deck. So start small. But because it is an opportunity to flower in new ways at this stage. But I really think that housing is such a big issue. There are apartments for people generally who are, let’s say Millennials or just starting out. There are neighborhoods where the people are too similar.
Sundae: Yes, absolutely.
Hayim: And I think that it just it is so unhealthy. We used to have neighborhoods where there were intergenerational connections that were organic. And I think that when a community center is built, a design of intergenerational should be interwoven. In some countries, they place pre-schools and kindergartens next to people who are in old age facilities. There’s like a town square and that way the older people are energized and who doesn’t love to hear the voice of young children. And at the same time, younger kids don’t fear or think that older people are without value.
So there are lots of things that can happen on the structural level, but if we wait until the structural level is solved, it may be too late. So what action steps can we take? Here’s a question I like to ask as part of the perennial challenge; Do you have at least one friend who is a generation up and a generation down?
Sundae: I would ask people if they look at, their WhatsApp or their social media, who are they messaging? Are they people from different generations? I did this eight-week intergenerational learning experience with women from 20 to 75 Last year, it is our year anniversary when we’re recording this. IT BLEW MY MIND. I thought I was going to go in there looking for themes like my qualitative researcher, the 20s say this, the 30s say that. That was not true at all. There was maybe only one theme where I found an age-related theme but the other themes ran through like red thread, painfully true, because of some of the challenges that women face as minority identity. And then add that to other minority identities that were there globally. But what I realized is, that I bring so many assumptions to my relationships and how I hold myself in relation to others.
So for example, I felt nervous when I was connecting the with the younger women, like they’re not going to think I’m cool. Right? Or relevant. And I caught myself feeling uncomfortable and it was limiting how I wanted to engage with them. I also caught myself because I was asking explicitly about intergenerational relationships. I learned what I have done in the past is I’ll take more of a mentor role, like an auntie role when they haven’t invited me to. So if they’re younger, I automatically think basically, I’m basically saying, “Don’t make the mistakes I made.” Right? But I haven’t been invited. Wait for an invitation or ask if they’re open to that. But what if we just connect as individuals? And I have learned so much from the younger women because they’ve gone through much harder life experiences, vastly different life journeys. So I have so much to learn Right in the same, goes the other way. Hmm,
Hayim: Well and that’s why I think being a learner, being curious, casting aside assumptions, it’s not possible to cast all the aside, but I think if – and I don’t know how one develops sort of a posture of curiosity, but for me it comes from my faith. And that is every person has his, or her hour, his, or her moment. If you’re open and you believe that all people are given the same dignity, equality, and freedom, then of course, I can learn something from everyone. I just have to be willing to pay attention.
Sundae: Right. Right. I also think we need to pay attention to what’s happening in ourselves. So we were at a restaurant and there was a woman celebrating probably her 80th, 85th birthday. And all of her friends were surrounding her and I noticed the dialogue in my head and I noticed the chatter with the people I was with. It wasn’t a default of dignity. It was, “Oh, that’s so cute.” Infantilizing elderly, or little shamey around like old-fashioned clothing or hairstyles. Like, watch what’s happening within ourselves. And I caught myself in that moment, like wanting to go there and be playful. And I thought, “No, that’s not dignity.” How can I be here in this moment, watch this celebration and honor their dignity? And when I walked out, I touch the– I looked down at the woman and I said, “Look at this amazing community you’ve created. Look at who is here to support you today.” And I wouldn’t have seen that had I let myself go into the old default which mirrors all of the stereotypes that we have about people who are older.
Hayim: You know you’re reminding me of one of the triggers that led me to write this book so I have a bunch of cool old friends. One of them is my Rabbi, who is 94 and the other one is 103 year old. I’m sorry, he turned 104. Yeah, and every week when they’re in town and if not we either do it, by Skype or FaceTime depending upon what they each. Pretty cool at 94 and 104. Right? So we study our weekly Torah portion when we were together. Now, I’m the youngest in the group but 63. The 94-year-old turned to the 104-year-old at one point and said, “Hey Harold compared to you. I’m just a kid.”
Hayim: So if you’re open, so much learning and wisdom and experience. And they said to me at one point early on in the research process, or when I was thinking about what I wanted to write on next, they said, “I don’t want to lead anything anymore. I don’t need to lead anything. I feel that I have something to offer.” Younger people are polite but other than saying, ”Hello, how are you?” I have no organic way of connecting with them and I love being with younger people. And these are people of caring families by the way. But they miss the interaction.
And at the same time, I remember too many times, I also have the ability to make my SmartWatch look dumb. I can be a little, a little slow of finger and I know sometimes that when younger people look at me, I kind of see a thought bubble, like, “What does he possibly know? He doesn’t know technology all that well, he’s trying, I’ve got to give him credit for that but I’ve got nothing to learn from him.”
So where’s the shared work that we can do? Age doesn’t matter. And it’s really who’s got the best experience for the task at hand.
Sundae: Right? Totally. There’s so much untapped potential and you said something about, how do we develop a posture of curiosity? I think that’s a wonderful, a wonderful question to ask ourselves. How do we tap into that ourselves? I also feel like there’s it can come when we’re put together in safe contexts. One of the things as an Interculturalist, we talk about Contact Theory and this idea of, if you put people together they will learn. But that’s not true. It has to be like a shared power dynamic, equality, common goal.
So, how can we get ourselves into spaces where that is possible? And I think that is one way that the curiosity will emerge. When you’re in those safe spaces of shared power, shared goal, then naturally, I think that curiosity will come up or at least I hope, I hope it will come up.
Hayim: But I think another question that we might ask ourselves is what did it feel like think of a time when we were dismissed by someone. Where we weren’t taken seriously. And what did that feel like? And how might it feel like for the person at home, in my community, in my workplace? t’s really both simple and complex. But I think it all starts with the self because we don’t have the luxury of waiting for somebody else to do it for us. We can be empowered as you call upon us to be. What’s stopping us? Okay. Maybe we can’t change the whole world. We can change a part of it. We don’t have to wait until tomorrow. We could start today. If every one of your listeners would, I don’t want to say like hug a person of a different generation because that would be problematic but metaphorically reach out to someone.
Sundae: Yeah. Right.
Hayim: Who’s been really hurting? Who’s alone? Or who do you want to learn from? Who do you want to say “thank you” to who taught you something?
Sundae: Hmm. Absolutely. And this idea when you talked about, if you’ve been dismissed, that is something when you connect it to ageism applies to all generations. Remember being. Yes, I worked for a consulting firm during and outside of college right away, and I was the youngest in the team. But I was leading the team of my incoming interns because I had the most experience, and it was an awkward dynamic to navigate. And my boss was a wonderful coach and she supported me in saying, “Yes, you’re the youngest but you’re the one who has been on the project the longest,” right?
So it’s easy to be dismissed on the end of the scale, we know in midlife. It’s easy to be dismissed. And then of course, in later years, so I love that question. I think everybody can feel that burning pain of when you have been dismissed.
Hayim: Yeah, I just think about Boomers who said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” and then now it’s like, “Don’t trust anyone under 60.” I see that happening a little bit with Gen-Xers who are sort of moving into that stage of life where parents are getting a little older. They might have their first sort of health events. They might be thinking of moving to a different location or a different country. And they’ve got still older child-raising responsibilities. And it’s like, “No, we just have to continue to try to remain an open posture,” and it’s so hard right now because we used to give people the benefit of the doubt. And now it’s like judgment, detriment of the doubt, “Of course, you’re out to harm me.” So it’s just so toxic right now. The challenge is more urgent,
Sundae: Right. Absolutely. So, can you say more about your forthcoming book? And your first book said so much. Why this next book? Why now?
Hayim: So Connecting Generations was really a journey for me out of my custom self. The book that I had written before, co-authored, was with a Protestant colleague of mine, Lutheran colleague, and I thought back then like, “I need to get out of my Jewish bubble, there’s a world out there and it smells like it’s starting to burn a little.” That was 7-8 years ago.
And then after that, the next logical step was sort of out of the faith-based world into the general community with Connecting Generations. And now I think it’s really fascinating for me that I can do both, and. I can write for the general community and for this book I’m writing for a more particular community, the Jewish community. Although again, it’s a case study because we’re all part of the human tribe. Now, there may be some idiosyncrasies so it’s called; L’Dor va-Dor (“From Generation to Generation”) in a Digital Age. And I surveyed over 650 Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, a few Gen Zers. The largest cohort, of course, was Boomers. We had a good representation of Gen Xers and Millennials. And I asked questions about, let’s at, on the community level, the potential shared action level. I asked each of all generations about pressing social issues like healthcare, guaranteed healthcare, immigrant reform, LGBTIQ discrimination, sexual violence and harassment in the workplace, climate change.
And there was remarkable agreement across the board, that everybody should be working on these issues. These should be a priority for the Jewish Community to engage with these broader issues in our community. So, so much for the myth of people of different generations not caring about these controversial issues. Across the board. And in fact, the highest percentage of caring and importance registered across these six or seven issues that I just mention right now. So, that to me sounds like a potential area that is right for intergenerational work.
Sundae: Yeah absolutely. But we need a space for that. We need a way. I created this experience and it was a call for people to join me because there wasn’t a space to slot into. Do you know of spaces that people can currently slot into or maybe to create those spaces?
Hayim: Well, there are a few. I think that – and I’ve really looked far and wide and haven’t been able to find many, but potentially I think that congregations which are designed inherently to be intergenerational. Now they’re multi-generational most of them, you’re not intergenerational and just as you said before, just because you have people together of a different age, it doesn’t make it an intergenerational. It can just make it uncomfortable if you don’t have the right sort of facilitation and setting.
Hayim: I’m sure you know that very well. But I think that congregations are one place where it’s possible. I think that community centers, non-sectarian community centers are possible places.
I think that before the pandemic, the idea behind Starbucks was to be that third place and that is not work, not family, but the place where people could come together, maybe get to know one another. It was modeled after, I think the pub in the UK. That was a place where people of different backgrounds came together, socialized. I think that recreating these third places, kind of post COVID or with COVID management is something that we need to think about. Unfortunately, when I look at the coffee houses around me, most of them have shrunk their footprint for the seating part and enlarged their footprint for the drive-thru pick up part only.
So I’ll point out one other example that I remember that I did during my research. So in Cleveland, there was the Cleveland, I think it was a Cleveland Conservatory of Musi. Next to it was a very a kind of retirement home. And somebody on the board of this retirement home had the brilliant idea of opening up a couple of apartments for these music students and having them live there. But in return, they had to offer– they had to practice publicly and they also had to offer a number of concerts during the year. And It was just so stunning to see strangers of different generations where someone who was older and retired became like the mate of the maid of honor at a younger person’s wedding that they connected with. Where young and old in the communal kitchen, right? Shared recipes.
And a lot of the people that had retired, they loved music. They had been involved in the arts. So what did it take? It took a board member and a CEO who I think when he first heard the idea, he thought he was going to be not only in charge of this housing development for those who were retired but also like a resident advisor for college students at the same time. But with the right kind of criteria, it really worked out. Why can’t we do more of that?
Sundae: Totally. I have my vision is – we talked about multi-generational means many generations present and intergenerational is where you actually have connection and communication, that goes from my background with Intercultural Communication. It’s not, “hey, here’s how the Japanese do it,” or “here’s how they do it there.” It’s about what happens when we come together. My challenge is in the corporate context. Our corporations are inherently multigenerational but are definitely not intergenerational in terms of safety, authenticity, connection, right? There’s so much hierarchy that goes into it and there’s a power dynamic that goes into that space. And my vision is; How can we encourage corporations to take their multi-generational organizations and help them be inner culture or intergenerational?
Because then, we’ve got mentorship that goes up and down the age levels. We’re creating trust in new ways. Engaging in new ways. My Hope Is that when you have that experience, it will then bleed out into your community life. Where you’re like, “Oh, that was really cool. I did a pop-up intergenerational thing at work and now I know it’s great to have relationships across generations. I want to do that in my community.”
Hayim: I hope that you’ll be successful because I think about the loss of wisdom, intergenerational wisdom because this isn’t that reciprocal, kind of mentoring. But I know in some smaller companies, for example, owners have experimented with rethinking, what are benefits? Because the benefits that somebody needs who is in their 50s is probably different from the benefits that somebody who may be paying off their student loans. So is having a one-size-fits-all benefit package, is that really a way to respect the generational needs?
I know that there are other companies where they might sort of bring people together from different generations and have each of them perform tasks that are uncomfortable for them. They’re out of custom range of what they do but they are in the range of what somebody in another generation does. And then sort of kind of process like what is that? It is a challenge to move bureaucracies, but sometimes in the nonprofit world, at least, I’ve been able to ask people, let’s run a beta. Much less threatening. It’s a beta. Okay, if it fails it fails and we’re going to learn something anyway. But to run a beta, with clear communication goals. My mantra is; Think big. Move fast. Start small. Assess. Communicate. Evaluate and then either close it up or close it down, or scale it up and take the learning. And then apply it to the next one.
Will larger corporations be willing? And maybe COVID has given us that perspective and maybe the confidence that we’re much more adaptable than we thought. And will larger corporations be willing to engage in more betas because they’ve gotten pretty good at it? What do you think?
Sundae: I hope so. I hope so. And I think engagement is the word that is relevant. How do I keep people engaged when people are disengaging or at a distance? I also think connected to this polarized world that we live in, connecting over generations is a safer place to start because our defenses aren’t as high compared to other identities that we hold. And from an intercultural perspective, if we are able to create a safe place to start and then we start to see the humanity and create a relationship we’re more open to expand the way we see someone on the areas that would be more polarized. That is so, I mean,
One way to make movement in a very, very challenging context.
Hayim: So again, I’m remembering when my co-author and I started working on this book, this new book COVID hadn’t hit yet.
Sundae: Right. Right.
Hayim: Then we thought, during COVID, oh my gosh, COVID is kind of an accelerator for trends that are out there, digital trends that are out there, social trends that are out there, both, positive and negative. Then we had and I live in Minneapolis, the murder of George Floyd, which was just so, ugly, just so morally bankrupt and wrong, that led to the protest. So then we had the social protest coming with COVID. Then we had the political polarization. And I thought back and asked. Well, first of all, I asked my father, who’s 93, and my mom, who’s 90, “Do you ever remember a time in your life when society was so fragmented and divided and angry?” And they said, “No, we don’t, it never happened before.”
Historically, I realized that in the 60s we had the social justice protests, right? 70s were Watergate. And 80s, were the beginning of HIV/AIDS. So we had like some space in between both the social justice protest and the political issues that we had upheaval and then not a pandemic but certainly a big fear about how AIDS was decimating, first, the gay community and then people realized, “Oh, it’s not God’s punishment.” Of course. it’s not God’s punishment, that’s nonsense, you know. And here we have a trifecta of all three forces coming together. We’ve got COVID . We’ve got political polarization like we’ve never seen before. And then, of course, we also have, tragically the social justice protests could never be more relevant.
So we’ve never experienced this trifecta of forces before and they are non-stop. They are unsettling. Tomorrow is not like today, and how do you adapt to a world like that? But, here’s one thing that I took a lot of comfort in, when I watched the protests across the country, after George Floyd was murdered and saw People of Color and White people. I saw young people, I saw old people and everybody in between. There is so much power in shared intergenerational work. That are we going to remember what you know that we can be effective more effective together? And I really think that the onus is on some way people who are older because we have the ability, we’ve got the perspective, we’ve got the history, social justice is something that we started in the 60s, we abandoned it, we’re coming back to it now. We have to let people who are younger lead and we have to also lead from the side. Which means respect. It doesn’t mean that automatic like, “Oh, I have so much to teach you,” because if we did you wouldn’t be having this, again. But it also means we can take some risks.
Sundae: Yeah. Totally. It’s true. I want to end on hope. I want to focus on what is possible and I think it goes back to how we started. The answer is really right in front of our faces of just looking at ways that we can connect across the generations, ripping down our own stereotypes and assumptions first so that those connections will be richer. And then asking what is possible based on where we’re at. Absolutely.
Hayim: One reminder, these barriers, these intergenerational barriers are artificial. We erected them. So to your point about hope and empowerment, if we put them up we can take him down.
Hayim: And that to me is empowering. It’s really annoying I guess to live with an optimist.
Hayim: That’s what my family tells me sometimes.
Sundae: Yes, yes.
Hayim: But why not? I mean. Okay. We can’t control everything, but we have more influence than we’re willing to accept because it’s scary because then we have to do something with it.
Sundae: Yeah, that’s right. My family criticizes me they say, “Mom, you’re always so positive.”
Hayim: *laughter* I hear ya. I hear ya.
Sundae: *laughter* So let’s focus on you for a second. I mean, you see so much with the work that you do, you also live your own life, right? So do you mind if we shift on you for a second and look at where you’re ATT. We have ATT; Ambitious, Transformation in Transition. Which transitions are you feeling right now?
Hayim: Sure. So professionally I would say I’m on version 5.012 or whatever the number would be and I’m really enjoying focusing on writing, researching, meeting people. I’d like to do more in person. I think in about two weeks from now, my co-author and I are holding two intergenerational – structured intergenerational conversations that will be on soon. Hopefully, one day in person where instead of just talking about bringing generations together, we’re modeling that in our research to laugh and talk about shared things. So I love that aspect of my life right now.
A lot less happy with some health transitions that I’m going through, this is not a great time. The boot is you know temporary but it didn’t stop me from putting my foot in my mouth so that’s really good.
Hayim: But being diagnosed with autoimmune conditions, during COVID was not a very cool thing. So trying to figure out how to manage my health because this pandemic will be manageable. But when you think about it there’s been like Zika, HIV, SARS, Avian flu, COVID. So this is part of the global world that we’re in today. So managing health issues and it was so hard for me before the vaccine came out. I felt like a hermit and the research on isolation and what it does to someone’s mental health, I felt very deeply. And I never want to go through that again. And I never want to forget what that felt like because as we were talking about earlier, a lot of people were isolated, before COVID for various reasons, and we have to remember them. So those are the transitions.
And I love being a grandfather and Sundae you’re supposed to say, “Oh my gosh, you look way too young to be a grandfather.” Come on, I’ll wait.
Sundae: That would be ageist. I just think it’s kind of, yeah.
Hayim: I’ve been one for over six years now and that’s really it is so much fun and such a delight. And you want to talk about learning and listening and just being. So that those are some of the transitions.
Sundae: It’s beautiful. And when we think about your own transformation, do you feel a pull more towards something internal or is it the external, all of it, or even a goal like a performance led transformation that you’re feeling right now?
Hayim: No, I think most of my pulls have been internal. When I first started out as a congregational Rabbi, there were rules and structures and expectations. I mean, one really funny story, it’s funny now, is when my daughter was born, I started wearing pink shirts, and pink and purple ties, and a congregant came up and said, “What size Is your neck?” And I said, “Why?” He said, “Well just tell me.” So I told him, he came back with a white shirt and handed it to me a week later and said, “You really shouldn’t wear pink publicly, it’s not befitting.” So of course, I bought more pink. That was my response.
but it was raining.
Sundae: Yes! I love it.
Hayim: It was constraining and by the time I got to my second iteration where we were like a start-up unit within a non-profit like, I felt, “Wow, this is really so much fun. I need to learn more about this,” and that’s when I went back to school and got a Ph.D. in organizational management and progressively, what matters now is; What is significant to me? What do I enjoy? What people do I enjoy working with? I don’t want to work with people who are negative. It’s not fun.
But, it’s like I don’t want to be a Pollyanna but where’s the gratitude? What can you be grateful for when you wake up every day? So all of this is internal, it’s what do I feel is most significant and also feels joyful to me?
Sundae: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that we have that in common. I use my podcast selfishly to talk about things that are meaningful to me and joyful for me and I hope that it brings joy and meaning for other people. So, based on all
Hayim: It does, I know. I just have to say, you know, I well, I do enjoy listening to your podcast. In fact, I thought, “Okay, I’ll listen to one or two,” I couldn’t stop. So, the laughter, the joy, the significance of meaning. I mean, your great model, and I just want to make sure I have a chance to thank you. And to say that publicly.
Sundae: Thank you, that means so much to me, especially from someone that I respect so much. So that does mean a lot. So tell me with all that you’ve already done and where you’re at in your life right now, how do you define ambitious for you?
Hayim: So “ambitious” for me will be, is a few things one while I’m working on this book furiously now, with my co-author, I’ve outlined another book that’s much more serious on what happens when someone who is a caretaker for a family member who’s chronically ill, suddenly is in need of medical help because in this case, I became chronically ill. So that inside-outside perspective. And I also started to collect some anecdotes. My life has been really funny. I think I’m one of the funniest people I know. There’s a decreasing number of people who agree with me.
Hayim: But funny things have happened to me, along the way. And I want to write them down, it’s just true for me and my family. And I want to try to chronologically remember my life through humor which to me sparks creativity. So that’s ambitious. Outlining two books I’m working on.
Sundae: I did not expect that. That’s wonderful while you’re dealing with other things, that’s so wonderful. Oh my gosh, my face hurts from smiling right now. And I always think that’s a good sign. I’m one of those people who does think you’re authentically funny. So you can how you can add +1 to your list of people who think you’re funny.
Hayim: Thank you. And I just want to make clear to your audience. I have not paid you to say that. That was authentically coming from Sundae. No bribes involved. Just exchanges. You did.
Sundae: You’re gonna slip me some money to say that you don’t look like a grandfather. I think that’s gonna happened later.
Hayim: *laughter* This is so much fun.
Sundae: So obviously, people need to have more of you. So if they want more of you, your work and your humor, where can they find you?
Hayim: LinkedIn is really the place where I’m most active and I’ve got a Facebook page, very inactive Pinterest page because that’s like I’m learning I’m getting there. But I would say LinkedIn is a really good place to find me for more content. You can go to my website at HayimHerring.com H A Y I M H E R R I N G.com and those are the best two places.
Sundae: Perfect wonderful. I’ll make sure that’s on the show notes. This is just been lovely and I want to just sort of recap, some things that I’m taking away, I think it is this duality of the easy and the heart that we hold, right? It’s actually really easy what we have next to improve our quality of lives, to curb loneliness and isolation. But I understand the hard in there that we need to sort of deconstruct some of our own stereotypes. Maybe take risks and reach out to people in new ways. So that’s what I’m holding, both of those. And I hope that someone if this resonates with them when they’re listening, they’ll just take that next step in holding both. So thank you for being here. This has been wonderful. And thank you to all of you who are listening. This is IN TRANSIT with Sundae Bean. I’ll leave you the words of Brene Brown, one of my favorite authors. It’s yep. Go ahead.
Hayim: Go ahead. I wanted to thank you again. He’s so sorry. I just want to say thank you. Definitely didn’t feel like work. And work and fun can live harmoniously together. So thank you.
Sundae: Yeah, thank you. So, I will leave you with the words of Brené Brown: “We are hard-wired to connect with others. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives and without it, there is suffering.”
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