“Hi. I’m Seamus’s Uncle Dan.” “Oh, hi.” “Are you guys part of the high school or college group?” “Uh, yeah, well, uh, I went to college with Seamus.” “And I went to high school with him.” Pause. “You guys have names?” “Yeah…oh, yeah I’m Conner” “And you?” “I’m Juan.” Longer pause. “So where do you live?” “Uh, well, I live in the city.” “And what are you doing now?” “I work in marketing.” “And you?” “Uh, I do what he does. Marketing.” At this point, I can’t take it anymore. “OK, then. Nice to meet you. I head back to the beer cooler and sit back down with familiar friends and family. And so it went at last weekend’s master’s graduation party for my nephew. Another unfortunate and predictable tooth-pulling exercise to engage early and mid-20 somethings in bare minimum discourse. This time, after a couple of runs at it, I quit. I left the other couple of dozen young adults in attendance alone. It’s been hard for a while. Maybe it started with video games and now hardened with the fifth appendage, the smartphone. But that’s only part of it. It’s got to be parenting. And we all ought to sue every collegiate institution that took a quarter million dollars-plus and left us this. It feels like a long time ago but I can still draw on images of young people engaging adults, introducing themselves, shaking hands, asking about what they did for a living, schmoozing, working the room, getting a kick out of hanging with the people. who brought us all into this world. Oh yeah, that was my crowd, in my day. We too had holidays, summer bashes, high school, college and grad school graduations, showers and weddings. The main attraction, of course, was each other, your peers. But there was also something special about engaging our seniors. Being old enough to legally have beer with your friends’ parents, aunts and uncles and shoot the bull with them was a passage. There was sage perspective all around us. We soaked it up. And as we moved through our lives with jobs, marriage and our own kids, we fondly remembered those isolated moments, drawing on something they may have advised, nostalgic and thankful for the picture in our minds. In their golden years, they too would reminisce about the crowd around their kids, nieces, and nephews. Maybe even a laugh now about a story that wasn’t so funny back then, but proud of what most of us became. The declining generational difference in interpersonal engagement is profound, and we don’t need scientific data to prove it. Let’s just fix it. New moms and dads, crack down on the screen time early, build in conversation time, teach eye-to-eye contact and a firm handshake. Encourage your children to introduce themselves, use adult pronouns, and be respectfully curious. Minimally, they will breeze by their untrained peers, gaining a reputation for authenticity and maturity. Maximally, if we reach enough, we can turn a generation in the right direction and add to their superior technological skills a grounded interest in others. It’s got to help the world, right? And at the very least, a young person may just approach you at the next gathering and say something like, “Hi, I’m Conner, I went to school with Seamus.” You must be his Uncle Dan.” Dan Yorke is the PM Drive Host on 99.7/AM 630 WPRO, Dan Yorke State of Mind weekends on Fox Providence/WPRI 12 and owns communications/crisis consulting firm DYCOMM LLC.
“Hi. I’m Seamus’s Uncle Dan.”