When worlds collide
Moving outside your orbit to find wisdom in unexpected places
Who do you seek when you’re looking for advice? You likely have several satellites of personal relationships orbiting your world, from which, you procure inspiration and guidance to create your own personal nexus of support. While everyone’s network is unique, broadly speaking most support networks include some variation of the following:
- Inner circle: friends, family, peers, and mentors that you trust and can rely on for personal support, guidance, honesty, and companionship
- Functional affiliates: those people you reach out to who possess knowledge beyond your personal scope of expertise, such as mechanics, doctors, therapists, educators, and other professional services
- Aspirational influencers: the individuals and groups in your world with a broad sphere of influence that resonates with a large audience, including cultural groups, spiritual and religious organizations, authors, artists, leaders, and institutions
There are people in various parts of our life that we naturally look to further our quest for knowledge, expertise, experience — even inspiration.
But where don’t you typically seek advice? Chances are, a seniors’ community isn’t high on your list. Likely the student body of a post-secondary institution such as Mount Royal University isn’t up there either. But, perhaps it’s time to think differently about where wisdom can be found. Perhaps by crossing generational divides, we find we have more in common and even more to learn than from the usual suspects in our support networks.
The gravity of lifelong learning
Meet David Ballard. David is a resident at United Active Living. He’s also on the committee for MRU’s Intergenerational Speaker Series (IGSS) that runs four times a year in conjunction with the Calgary Association of Lifelong Learning (CALL). Each session includes a guest speaker and a peer-to-peer discussion facilitated by volunteers.
David, a former elementary school teacher, taught in Calgary and abroad until he retired in the 1990’s. “I spent time travelling across the world in 1961, and wound up in Fiji teaching before I returned home to Calgary. It was a profound experience — most teachers in that era sat on a podium and supervised the class as they worked, but I walked up and down the aisles, asking questions and speaking to the students, and eventually, they started hanging out in the classroom with me on their lunch breaks. It was the best experience I’ve had in my life.” David recalls, “Over the years since, I have always enjoyed travelling and learning about the world from other people’s perspectives. Coming to United, I wanted to get involved with the IGSS to encourage connections and conversations between generations in a common setting.”
David, like many other residents in the community has not completely left his vocation behind. He still takes time to connect with others, and encourages everyone to be involved. Not only has he enticed residents to attend the IGSS events in great numbers, he has also made introductions to other volunteers and organizers at the IGSS to United team members — opening up doors for future collaborations, and opportunities for orbits to intersect.
It’s apparent at the IGSS events that students and seniors alike look forward to connecting with each other — attendance has grown from a handful of participants meeting virtually, to a large conference room filled to capacity, buzzing with lively conversations and ripe with the energy that emanates from building lasting connections. Some students and senior members, even carving time out of their schedules to connect beyond the IGSS events.
At United Active Living, our communities have become a crossroads of sorts, where orbits collide, and where knowledge, wisdom, and connection is often shared in new and unexpected ways. David is one individual among many who are committed to building that special kind of social capital that results in sharing wisdom. He’s interested in setting the stage for unexpected learning opportunities. There are countless people who have been interconnected this way through United’s programs and resident-led initiatives, and we’re highlighting a few community contributors whose orbits have made a particular impact.
Expanding our collective universe
Barbara Pierce, president at the Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners (CALL) — and organization sponsor of the IGSS events — volunteers alongside David to help bring events to life. “My degree is in social work, which led me down the path of writing government policy and social planning in Ontario. Similar organizations like the Society for Learning in Retirement in Ontario offered enriching programs for seniors —but the collaboration between IGSS, MRU, and CALL is leading the way in fostering inspiring and respectful spaces for people across generations to exchange and reflect on their life experiences. We wanted to get involved in an organization to share the benefits of intergenerational connection here in Calgary, but of course, COVID had a massive impact on participation and awareness of CALL and the IGSS. Having people like David involved and enthusiastically taking the initiative to bring fellow residents to the IGSS has been instrumental in the success the IGSS has had in bringing people together.”
Barbara continues: “The IGSS has created these incredible opportunities for connection, and has seen growth in support over its evolution. Students and seniors alike have learned so much on how to break the barriers of interacting with people outside their circles, and they’ve connected in ways that couldn’t have been predicted.” Barbara adds, “We’re thrilled to see numbers growing at each event, and we’re excited to welcome new members every day. We encourage and welcome anyone who is interested to get involved.”
Launching a new perspective
Often, it can feel strange or even intimidating to try and forge connections with people from a different orbit — especially when it comes to stepping into a caregiver’s role. At United, nursing students from Mount Royal University are placed in practicums to expand their knowledge and gain hands-on experience working in a seniors’ community before graduating. While the hands-on experience is instrumental in developing technical skills required for a career in nursing, the impacts of interacting and socializing with residents on a daily basis are often more significant and impactful than you’d think.
Dildeep Rai-Kapoor, RN BN(Hon) GNC(C) is an Instructor with the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Mount Royal University, and oversees student nurses completing practicums with United. “Spending extended time in the community, students have the opportunity to see seniors not only living, but thriving,” Dildeep says. “It’s essential for anyone involved in a care role to see residents having great days, and not solely when they need medical attention. It dispels stigma that seniors are just sitting around, passing time, or suffering. Communities like United have residents of all cognitive abilities interacting and socializing with each other, establishing relationships with their care team and other employees. It creates an atmosphere where everyone feels they are contributing, have purpose, and are valued.”
Ultimately, when completing before and after surveys for their practicum, students have come to understand the positive impacts of community, lifelong learning, and social interaction among older adults. Many students reflect that the relationships they created with residents also had a positive and meaningful impact on their own personal lives. Ultimately, after spending quality time with residents in the community, students are more inclined to examine their biases, and are more likely to decide to pursue a career in senior care.
When the rules of gravity (and knowledge) don’t apply
At United, daily programming frequently features guest speakers of all ages, backgrounds, cultures, and areas of expertise, who share their stories and knowledge with residents. Subject matter experts present on a broad variety of topics ranging from history and current events to arts and culture, travel, politics, and more. As it happens, age (or any other standard descriptor) is rarely a factor when it comes to who shares knowledge within United’s communities.
Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes is an Elder of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Treaty 6, in Saskatchewan, and currently resides in Calgary, where she shares her wisdom and traditions with the greater Calgary community. Both Cheryle and her daughter Chantal, who is also a Cree Elder, have visited United communities to lead residents in learning about regional Indigenous teachings, including drum circles, and ceremonies, sharing traditions and wisdom.
“Elders in our community are not defined by age, but rather their connections to our traditions, and how they serve the community by sharing their wisdom with others, so they can apply it to themselves in their daily practices,” Cheryle says. “When you think of a child, they have no fear. They trust their own judgement. They show us we don’t always have to be apprehensive about every decision we make and that taking risks can lead to great rewards. Conversely, as we age, and learn from our mistakes, we can guide the younger generation to consider the consequences of decisions before taking the leap.” Cheryle continues, “Ultimately, it’s about gathering, to share our experiences and offer support. Wisdom is less about age, and more about connection. Everyone has value, and everyone has their own unique gifts they can impart to others.”
Try a different telescope: see the world through a new lens
Jamie Fewchuk, Director of Innovation in Aging, has taken on this new role at United, created to identify opportunities for innovation and in doing so, address misconceptions and stigma around aging.
“Older adults have a wealth of knowledge, and they have a lot to offer. We can count on their wisdom, we can rely on their compassion. In turn, spending time with seniors offers an opportunity to view the world through the lens of someone who is experiencing the world in a new way.” Jamie adds, “United’s programming and community partnerships have brought residents opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily have access to otherwise — the IGSS series, for example, has been a great success — residents are excited to take part, and enjoy connecting with students on a personal level.”
Intergenerational connections continue with an even younger set: 2024 will see United work towards forging a new partnership with a local childcare provider to cultivate connections between children and residents through a new ‘Art across all ages’ initiative, offering a unique opportunity for generations to connect through creative expression. The proposal stemmed from United’s first ever Innovation Fair this past summer, where team members were encouraged to submit creative ideas that aligned with innovation and the organization’s values of respect, individuality, and community.
‘Art across the ages’ was submitted by Meagan Thomson, one of United’s Creative Facilitators, and was selected among the top submissions amidst a wave of innovative proposals. Jamie says of the potential benefits of the intergenerational initiative: “There are mountains of evidence that support the benefits of intergenerational connections, not only for older adults, but for people of all ages. United is already leading the way with its revolutionary United Minds services, and we want to continue to be at the forefront of innovation in aging.”
Exploring the cosmos
When gazing from a distance, it might seem like people across ages and cultures with ‘nothing in common’ are galaxies apart, however, when individuals from diverse backgrounds and generations come together and share their ideas, light years can be traversed in mere moments. Each one of these individuals and groups are living examples of how knowledge has been discovered among unexpected places and people.
Perhaps by thinking a bit differently about how we seek advice and who we connect with for insights and expertise, we too can travel to new and exciting galaxies. Next time you’re looking for advice from an expert, try launching beyond your usual orbit and instead seeking gravity from those who may exist in entirely different universes. You may just find discovering wisdom in unexpected places, has been written in the stars all along.