Do We Ever Really Grow Up?

A Week With The Grandparents

I usually observe one more restriction than the usual list of forbidden topics such as religion and politics.  Except where there is a point to be made I don’t talk much about my family. My eyes glaze over when some people blather incessantly about their personal lives and I don’t really want to become another blatherer. Also, even though it is no secret that I am a card carrying Baby Boom Generation member, there is something odd about writing or speaking to experiences that are unrelated to many people. It doesn’t take higher mathematics to figure out that I am old enough to have children who have children of their own. It has become a summer tradition for my wife and me to host a quality grandparenting week with them which also gives their parents some quality time sans kids. Observing three of my four grandkids interacting with each other for the past week has been a laboratory that has offered insight into raw human emotions, uninhibited thinking and fearless risk taking.

Kids are not miniature adults and it requires a logic shift in order to effectively communicate with them…or maybe not. I couldn’t help but recognize patterns of behavior that reminded me of some human resources issues and grown-up interactions that seem to be closely patterned after childhood experiences.

Leave my stuff alone! Respect for the physical and intellectual property of others is a basic right that most of us would hold to be true. This is not always a selfish act because well thought out planning resulting in logical conclusions should not be torn down at will by someone else even if they are in more advantageous position of power. Might does not make right. On the other hand, in most companies there are both real and artificial boundaries between departments. Often power is determined by how much turf can be protected from encroachment by others. Self serving protectionism can be counterproductive when sharing of data and ideas would contribute to the overall well being of the company. Institutional silo building can prevent big picture thinking.

Stop touching me! Animals and humans have a territorial imperative that defines the private space around them. Did you know that the back seat of a car that can comfortably seat three adults is too small for three kids? We relearned that lesson at the Bronx Zoo where we saw a male tiger housed in an expansive paddock all alone because he would kill any other tiger sharing his space. In the office it is rarely a matter of “kill or be killed,” but there are unwritten rules of space allocation that aid in promoting productivity at the same time as providing sufficient personal privacy. Open office space is a design that can promote employee interaction and encourage collaboration. Failure to observe common courtesy and respect is a major trespass on the space of others. The next time you are tempted to engage in a lengthy conference call on a speaker phone in your cubicle, check first to make sure there isn’t an irate tiger on the other side of the wall.  

You are too young to do that! Stereotypical age identifications start young. Twenty years after childhood the age differences between people melt into an undefined amorphous “generation” that is supposed to be a cohesive unit. In reality the differences start early and lessons learned here follow us through life. The image of authority as a “parent” lingers on and some of the same rebellious attitudes needed to find personal independence can be taken to extremes and form prejudicial barriers. Healthy discriminatory choices form our judgment systems unless they prevent listening to reason and logic from others. Insisting on emphasizing the differences between people rather than embracing the similarities is always shortsighted.

That’s not fair! Perceived inequality is painful. The concept of “fair” may evolve from jealous or selfish wants or needs, but remnants of this concept are alive and well in the world of work. We may learn not to overreact to someone else getting more ice cream, but prejudicial actions are always a point of contention. The important fact is to understand that it really doesn’t matter if the injustice is real or perceived. Either way the hurt is real. Effectively communicating the reasons for differences is essential to resolving problems unless it is found that there is no logical explanation. Then the primary goal should be to make it go away by removing the problem. A better solution would be to make every possible effort to prevent unfair advantages in the first place, but there will never be 100% satisfaction with everything you do.

I was here first! Emotions control our actions. As much as we are conditioned to avoid the appearance of emotions in the workplace, it is unrealistic to assume that they ever go away. Honest emotions make us human. It is deeply rooted fears and scars from previous bad interpersonal relationships that can form emotional responses to situations that are never very far below the surface. Touching a hot button can provoke an emotional eruption that flows like molten lava over the surrounding terrain leaving nothing unscorched. Recognizing that everyone has these unseen pressure points can make it easier to forgive the humanness in others while we work to strengthen our own defenses against childlike responses to situations.  

It never ceases to amaze me that uncluttered young brains can be so perceptive. Having the attention span of a gnat rarely keeps them from taking it all in. They may not have all the sophisticated mental connections for logical thought processes, but hearing their imagination and following their creative ideas is remarkable and somehow rejuvenating. If you have young children or grandchildren, listen to them intently and don’t dismiss their illogical outpouring as irrelevant. If you don’t have children of your own, borrow some. I thought it was very appropriate that my spellchecker didn’t like the word “grandparenting” and one of the suggestions was “grandpa renting.” That’s what I do! I am available to listen to you or your kids anytime.

By the way I have a message for the Millennial generation from the generation that will take over your world: “Watch out! We are smart, savvy, creative and are already using the technology you think is so advanced.  We’re eager and on fire. Ready or not, here we come!”


Image credit: 123RF Stock Photo [modified]