Life is “a dance whose steps must be learned along the way….”

The anthropologist Margaret Mead, who was a pioneer in many ways, writes in “Blackberry Winter: My Earlier Years” of something that she has “pleaded [for] all my life”“everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.”


Margaret gives us a clue in “Culture and Commitment: A Study of the Generation Gap” — something for educators, parents, young people, and society to ponder. “Even very recently, the elders could say: ‘You know, I have been young and you never have been old.’ But today’s young people can reply: ‘You never have been young in the world I am young in, and you never can be.’ … the older generation will never see repeated in the lives of young people their own unprecedented experience of sequentially emerging change. This break between generations is wholly new: it is planetary and universal.”

Photo by Sergiu Vălenașon Unsplash

About 30 years later, we find Margaret’s daughter, Mary Bateson, takes this up. 

Mary, a cultural anthropologist who taught at Harvard (among other places) tells us, in a 2000 October conversation, that she “think[s] of my daughter and myself as having been born in different countries. We were actually born 30 years apart in the United States of America. That means we were born into massively different cultural environments.”

“So my argument is that one way to learn” is “to talk to your grandparents how they’ve adapted to change in this country, and notice what it takes to communicate effectively across that generational gap.” Such conversations between parents and children are equally invaluable. 

One of the benefits of this is the realization that “unfamiliar groups are different in the same kinds of ways.” Homes are training grounds on “how to bridge the gap” between cultures, generations, and peoples. If we pay close attention “learning within the home….offers” insights “to understanding things outside the home.”

Mary makes the powerful point (“Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way”) that Learning is sacred. In the first chapter of the book, she writes Life calls us “to join in a dance whose steps must be learned along the way….Looking, listening, and learning offer the modern day equivalent of moving through life as a pilgrimage.”

Peace 🙂

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