Fences and bridges can separate and reconcile groups


By Marianne Delorey©

Everyone has heard that birds of a feather flock together. It is a normal part of human nature to seek out people who are similar in some fashion to us. Similarities can exist on many traits — religion, race, gender, hobbies and geography.

Age can be another common link one that gets increasingly less important over time. This grouping together of different ages is particularly noticeable when looking at housing and services for the elderly. I call lines drawn around age groups ‘fences’ because they divide us all along somewhat subjective lines.

M.Delorey_headshotSince HUD’s fence is 62 years of age or older, I wonder how our residents, who are as young as 62 and as old as 103, feel about being grouped together along these lines. Does it matter that some are from “The Greatest Generation” some are “The Silent Generation” and there are even some “baby boomers” among them? Does it matter that the people who work here also run the gamut from “The Silent Generation” and up through Generations X, Y and Z? Does it matter more that we all share a community?

Since it is clearly arbitrary how age groups are defined, there seems to be a strong benefit in looking less at the number of years lived and more at what a person can do with that time. And one of the best things a person of any age can do is be a bridge to others.

A ‘bridge’ is a person who may reside or feel most comfortable among people in one group, but who regularly steps out of this group. I recently saw two bridges in action, and was thoroughly impressed by how they operated and the impact they had.

I was invited to a dinner hosted by two neighboring towns. At this event, there were young professionals and older retirees and family members. Not surprisingly, the younger people sat together, the retirees and family members sat together, and representatives of the two towns sat on either half of the room. It struck me that we were not eating together at all, but were in our own little constructed cocoons.

Then, the bridge from the retiree table went and sat with the younger table. They talked, they laughed and they related. You could see a commonality, a commitment to each other and a connection that transcended the age gap. The older and younger bridges together introduced the guests of honor to each other at the different tables. They also raised a glass in a toast to the group. Suddenly, we were one group, celebrating our commonalities instead of dinning in small, different circles.

This world needs more bridges. We may never stop seeking out people who are similar to us, but imagine how wonderful life would be if people could successfully reach across the gaps that divide us. If someone could connect the old and the young, the Muslim and the Atheist, the Republican and the Democrat. Yes, we should celebrate our differences, but we should also seek out experiences that pull us out of our small circles and expand our ways of thinking. For it is then that we are all growing together.

Marianne Delorey, Ph.D. is the executive director of Colony Retirement Homes. She can be reached at 508—755—0444 or mdelorey@colonyretirement.com and www.colonyretirementhomes.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com