What is one of your earliest memories of the power of human connection?
When I was 10 years old, my parents upended our life to pursue what was always referred to as my father’s dream – to own a hotel (in this case, a 35-room motel) on the beach. We relocated from a leafy suburb in New Jersey, where my mother was just adjusting to her dream as a suburban housewife, and moved our family to an apartment at our new motel on the Jersey Shore. Living above the family business meant that we all worked in the business – toggling between checking in guests, bookkeeping, housekeeping, lifeguarding at the pool, whatever was needed. And our employees became our extended family. A twenty-something night clerk we called “Tiger” taught me to drive in the motel’s parking lot. For several months, a man who had come on hard times slept in the laundry room. In those years, I realized the power of human connection borne of proximity, and I realized that interdependence is essential.
What values guide your personal life and your work?
At the core of everything I do is human connection. I get immense pleasure from getting to know people and finding ways to stay in touch or connected. I’ve been told that I find an uncommon percentage of humans to be interesting and likable!
Through our work at CoGenerate, I’ve learned that my affinity for prioritizing relationships over other aspects of life will serve me well as I age. Many studies – most famously the Harvard Study of Adult Development – affirm that people who have strong social connections are happier, less depressed, and even likelier to live longer than those who have fewer social connections.
When did a person or experience change your mind about an idea or belief?
I had always assumed that I would have children and never really questioned it. My first husband and I initially talked about kids, but over time, he realized that he didn’t want to become a father. My desire for kids was so strong in my 30s that I didn’t think I could feel fulfilled without them. Once we divorced, my feelings evolved. And I attribute that evolution to meeting several older women without children who showed me a possible life for myself that I had not imagined.
The most significant was Audrey, a beloved high school teacher and poet, who never married or had children and lived a big, generous life in a book-filled New York City apartment where scores of former-students-turned-friends were always flocking to be in her presence. Audrey traveled extensively, made time for her writing and reading, and hosted fabulous parties in her tiny living room where paintings by artist friends climbed the walls and red wine was always flowing. Audrey was my role model for making community, for building a life around learning and ideas, and for finding deep friendships through work you love.
Audrey has been gone for more than a decade, and in the years since, I have cultivated an enormous circle of women (and quite a few men) who have chosen or fallen into very rich, satisfying, connected, and creative lives without becoming parents. Our path is less rare than it used to be, especially if you live in a big city. Recent books like Ruby Warrington’s "Women Without Kids" and Erin Lane’s "Someone Other Than a Mother" are helping to normalize and destigmatize the idea of not having children while showing (as Audrey showed me) that non-parents can be an essential part of our society’s social fabric, often playing crucial roles in the lives of younger people.
What are you working on right now?
Organizationally, we’re building a community of leaders dedicated to cogeneration — bringing older and younger people together to solve problems, bridge divides and co-create a better future. My role has always tracked the space between sharing ideas and cultivating community, and my current portfolio straddles both.
There is no one formula for bridging generational divides, but through our various fellowships, we have been learning about what it really means to cogenerate. We know that core elements like listening, mutuality, respect, and humility are essential. Using a cookbook as metaphor, we have been identifying models for cogeneration. What are the key ingredients, core recipes, the special seasoning, or sauce? Our team is teasing out these recipes so that we can share them with others.
I’m also leading our efforts to expand and create a container for our intergenerational community of changemakers who can learn from and support one another, with an emphasis on adding more younger leaders.
On the ideas front, I’m deeply committed to expanding and diversifying the community of leaders and the settings where cogeneration is being explored. One example is a special collection of creative works we recently released with The On Being Project to address the topic of cogenerational social healing, along with tools and prompts people can use in their own work.
What is giving you hope? What positive visions do you have for our future?
I gave up watching television news several years ago as sensationalism and conflict were antithetical to the humanity I know actually exists in the world and that I see in the people I work with every day.
Through communities like New Pluralists, I’ve met leaders identifying ways to move us away from extreme polarization and division. It is heartening to be in community with a group that may not agree on countless policy approaches yet are determined to recognize and respect each other’s dignity. It is a place of genuine listening. And I believe that energy could be more widespread.
I’m also heartened by how many younger people want to work with older ones; they realize that we’re up against problems no generation can solve alone and that we’re stronger together. It’s possible that pop culture – even social media – will pave the way. One of our fellows recently gave a presentation on intergenerational memes and hashtags on TikTok featuring creators from the Kardashians to everyday grandchildren with their grandparents, using lighthearted videos and vintage photos to talk about themes like cross-generational friendships and healing generational trauma. That’s a positive sign even on a platform that has caused so much concern.