In his short story, A Christmas Tree, Charles Dickens writes: “I have been looking on, this evening, at a merry company of children assembled round that pretty German toy, a Christmas tree.” He describes the wonder of the children as they looked at the ornaments. “This motley collection of odd objects, clustering on the tree like magic fruit—some of the diamond eyes admiring it were hardly on level with the table, and a few were languishing in timid wonder on the bosoms of pretty mothers, aunts, and nurses—made a lively realization of the fancies of childhood.”
Our children today do not have the same experiences as the children Dickens describes. Lights on a tree hardly hold the same wonder when they compete with high definition screens. Imaginations are not ignited with wonder, sitting and staring at twinkling ornaments, when they are stimulated instead by continuous noise from handheld devices. Furthermore, innocent ponderings are interrupted by mature content, flowing into our homes and lives via technology.
Tim Elmore, in his book, Marching Off the Map, describes, “We have now begun to experience a strange paradox in our young: The extinction of childlikeness; the extension of childishness.” He explains that the “infectious flow of information” is exposing our kids to adult topics. As a result, they can “lose (1) their sense of innocence, (2) their sense of wonder and (3) their sense of trust.”
Not only are we losing our child-like wonder today, but also our ability to connect with our environment, the way people used to engage the beauty of simple things like Christmas decorations. Kirsten Weir wrote a fascinating article, “Never a Dull Moment.” She explains how in today's technological world, it's unusual to be stuck with absolutely nothing to do. “Most of us are bombarded by near-constant stimuli such as tweets, texts and a seemingly limitless supply of cat videos right at our fingertips. But all those diversions don't seem to have alleviated society's collective boredom.” She cites Psychologist John Eastman who says the reverse may be true. "These might distract you in the short run, but I think it makes you more susceptible to boredom in the long run, and less able to find ways to engage yourself," he says.
Weir reports that several researchers concluded boredom is best described in terms of attention. “A bored person doesn't just have nothing to do. He or she wants to be stimulated, but is unable, for whatever reason, to connect with his or her environment.” Connecting, and helping others connect, with the environment around us is critical as we seek to develop meaningful moments and lasting memories this Christmas. Most of us are used to our environment stimulating us, and if we are bored, we reach for a device. We have lost some of our ability to connect with each other. When we get together for holiday parties, and family gatherings, we often struggle to stay engaged with the people or activities around us and can be tempted to seek stimulation in our social media feed, text messages, or email notifications.
Creating meaningful memories may require some discipline and planning. We can start by being aware of when we are tempted to pull out our device, instead of engaging with someone who is in the room with us. We have to be intentional in creating focused time for interaction. For example, designing a fun box for phones and encouraging people to drop theirs in during family dinner. Planning some interactive activities (games, discussion questions, collaborative project) can give people tools to engage with each other rather than turning on video games or a movie. We must practice good emotional intelligence by asking questions, engaging others in conversation, and modeling for kids how to build relationships.
In her article, Weir cites researcher Van Tilburg. "We saw that boredom actually increased people's tendency to recall these very nostalgic memories and actually made them feel that life in general was more meaningful." Some boredom is essential to the wonder that Dickens described! It creates room for the most nostalgic and memorable moments to occur and be remembered. So, this Christmas, don’t just hand the kids a device, rather sit down with them to play a board game, decorate cookies, or share stories by the fire. When they complain about being bored, just smile!
A couple of years ago, Millennials (b. 1980-1995) officially surpassed Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) as the largest component of the workforce in America. As Generation Z (b. 1996-2012) now starts to graduate from college, Millennials are taking more leadership roles, and Boomers are continuing to retire. The influence of younger generations working in our companies, organizations, and churches continues to grow. While young leaders bring many beneficial perspectives and needed sills to the workplace, they sometimes lack other essential leadership skills that are becoming less common in our culture today.
One of my favorite movies is The Intern, a film starring Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway. It beautifully depicts the value and necessity of inter-generational relationships, and why we desperately need older leaders and mentors who refuse to fully retire. Hathaway plays the role of a young, highly successful Millennial entrepreneur who struggles to find balance between her demanding, evolving role and her young family. De Niro, a widower, is a retired professional whose old job in printing is all but obsolete. As a retiree, he does it all...learns Mandarin, tries yoga, and travels extensively. He becomes dissatisfied, however, with this lifestyle and applies for an internship at Hathaway’s company.
As an older intern, working for a Millennial entrepreneur, De Niro’s character represents what mature, wise, and sacrificial leaders have to offer to the younger generations. First, he was present. Ignored by his Millennial boss at first, he spent his days sitting in front of a computer with nothing to do. So, he engaged with the young interns to his right and left. He got to know the employees. He helped with various tasks and was just there: available and consistent. He wore a suit and carried his old-school briefcase. His calm and thoughtful presence became a gift to young, frazzled professionals around him.
Second, he was observant. Years as a professional had taught him to notice and appreciate skills and dynamics often lost on younger people. As a result, he was able to ask questions, provide assistance, or give counsel and affirmation that others overlooked. His input changed the lives of those he interacted with daily.
Third, he was patient. The young people around him often failed to acknowledge his contribution and wisdom. He remained constant, patiently doing his work and just being himself. Eventually, he found his boss asking him for help and advice, fellow employees recognizing and celebrating his significant contributions that changed the organizational culture, and his fellow interns wearing suits and buying briefcases. He had earned the right to be heard, followed, and imitated. His example and presence proved influential to young professionals who were learning and forming habits that would follow them for the rest of their careers.
Mentoring young leaders is not a task for the faint of heart. It requires personal sacrifice and humility. Often, experienced leaders find it easier to just withdraw or surround themselves with those in a similar stage of life. Sadly, this often results in the wisdom and experience they possess failing to become a legacy that will follow them for generations to come.
So, I propose that the talented, wise, and mature leaders in our midst shouldn’t retire, at least not entirely. They may at some point retire from formal leadership roles or positions. In some cases, they may allow others to take more prominent roles to gain experience and have influence. Nonetheless, we desperately need them to stay engaged in the lives of those young leaders around them—in their families, churches, communities, and organizations—to never retire from the work of mentoring and encouraging those who will lead us tomorrow.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!