“Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Innovation happens when ideas are not obstructed, when there is space to create, experiment and risk. There are many obstacles which hold most of us back (courageous disruptive innovators just go for it!) but many of us are a bit more cautious. I believe that some of our generational gaps are often widen by our need to defend “our” generation as the right one, right often being re-defined as meaning good and if our generation is good, then the idea of the other generation must be bad? Hence the judgment becomes an obstacle to our opening ourselves up to the other.

This concept of good versus bad is buried in phrases such as “that’s the old way of doing things” and “let’s get rid of that old way of thinking” or “that newfangled idea is ridiculous”, “at their young age what do they know”.

I wonder, do we ever really start with something new…I mean 100% new? Why is it that when we want to change something we tend to label the old idea or behavior as bad? It just might simply not be appropriate for now. At some point every old idea was a new idea. I would contend that every “new idea” is birthed from some previous knowledge of sorts. Even if the “old way” is completely “thrown out”, the old idea is in fact necessary in order to recognize that a new way is needed, giving it some value even as the old way exits the scene.

That does not mean the old idea was bad, for at some point in time, an innovator found it good for the time, place and use for which it was originally thought of.  I am all for innovation, I just think we need to be careful not to “Throw the baby out with the bath water.”

In the 16th century relatively few baths were taken by people in Europe. Baths were often thought to be unhealthy. They were difficult to prepare because the water had to be drawn and heated.

The difficulty of preparing bath water often meant that the same water might be used for a whole family’s bath, first the father, than the mother, than the oldest child working the way down by age with the baby bathed last. At this point, the bath water might be quite dirty and might obscure the view of the baby. A mother wouldn’t want to mistakenly discard the baby with the dirty, murky water, so the caution was sounded “make sure you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” When we discount an idea from a member of the younger generation, we might just be throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water isn’t likely to occur, but the expression of it has been a metaphor for the dichotomy existing in an idea or practice that is both good and bad. In such cases, the good can be kept while still getting rid of the bad. Some people might be inclined to get rid of everything and start over, and the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” is often used by people to encourage the preservation of the good parts.

In the Book “The Innovator’s DNA” the authors identify five discovery skills that   distinguish innovators from typical executives. The first one they stress is that innovators count on the cognitive skill called “associational thinking”.   Associational thinking helps innovators discover new directions by making connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas. Innovative break troughs often happen at the intersection of diverse disciplines. This phenomenon has been called the “Medici effect” described by author Frans Johanson. Johanson refers to the creative explosion in Florence: “when the Medici family brought together creators from a wide range of disciplines; sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, painters and architects.  As these individuals connected, they created new ideas at the intersection of the respective fields, therefore spawning the Renaissance, one of the most innovative eras in history.”

What would happen if we explore this concept of making connections not only across disciplines but across ages? After reading Bronwyn’s blog, I asked myself how serious is my generation (I am clearly one of the earlier Baby Boomers ) taking the Baptismal promise to “continue in the apostles’ teaching”. How well do we proclaim the Good News to people who have never heard it, or who learned the great story as a child but have not heard it in many years because the secular story has drowned out the poetic words of the psalms.

I would like to encourage us to take up Bronwyn’s challenge to think of creative ways to bridge a generation gap, or a knowledge gap, or an action gap to accomplish a new thing for the cause of Christianity?

People are living longer healthier lives. By 2030, people 65 and older will comprise approximately 20% of the population in the US. By 2020, we will be dealing with the largest elderly generation in history and also a generation of elders that will experience aging in radically different ways. Every 30 seconds someone turns 65. Even though many are being forced to work longer due to economic, there are also many who are not rushing into retirement and are working well into their seventies. A large percentage of this aging population is living in communities that are life giving vibrant communities. In the desire to live healthier lives, many are searching for deeper spiritual understanding.

Often when we think about evangelizing we think about families with children, youth and young adults. Why is it we don’t think about evangelizing to groups such as active retiree communities? What would happen if we crossed disciplines across generations and evangelized in a different way? What if youth and young adults went into active “older adult” communities and shared their stories of the “Good News” to those who have never heard it. Many older adults are active social media users. What if younger generations evangelized by introducing new technologies as a means by which an authentic intergenerational faith community comes into being? What if elders invited younger people into their active retirement communities?

What if as in the renaissance we brought together sculptors, poets, musician, painters, multi media experts and technology architects of all ages. What if we started a Renaissance movement, where the Great Story is told across generations and these stories are connected to the life experiences of those who share the word and hear the word anew and in unlikely communities?

Ruth-Ann Collins

1 Comment

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One response to ““Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

  1. Robert A. "Gus" Boone

    I’m ready, willing, and able (with a few ambulatory limitations) . I’ve even washed out my ears to hear refreshing and new ideas!
    Gus Boone, retired but not dead yet.

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