Bridging Generational Divides

A Conversation with John and Ocean Robbins

John and Ocean Robbins have worked as a father-and-son team for more than 20 years. John, a pioneering expert on the dietary connection between the environment and health, is a bestselling author; his latest release is No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Food Revolution. Ocean, founder of the global nonprofit Yes! and an internationally renowned spokesman for an ethical and sustainable future, has helped improve the lives of people in 65 countries. Their latest collaboration is leading Intergenerational Healing workshops that are helping communities to bridge generational divides.

Ocean, how did you develop an identity independent of the family fortune and fame?

Because my grandfather, the co-founder of Baskin-Robbins, was determined that my father would follow in his footsteps, my dad felt he had to rebel so that he could stand for his own values and pursue what he loved. My journey was different. Because my dad allowed me the opportunity to explore and discover who I wanted to be, I was free to focus my energy on rebelling against the pervasive social injustices of the world rather than rebelling against my parents.

Although our strategies and ideas differ, my dad and I have congruent values and work together harmoniously. In my work with leaders and others in many nations, I stand in awe of the congruency in people’s core values across generations. When I ask the citizens of any country to describe the world they want to live in, they state many of the same things: clean air and water, freedom to practice their faith, the opportunity to eat good healthy food, and safe places for children to play. These values are inherent in a global dream of how the world could be.

John, how did the two of you shift from a parent/child relationship into a partnership?

Our rare and vibrant relationship is a product of challenging assumptions about the present dominating parent model. As adults, we are equal partners, although in Ocean’s dependent years, I played a fathering role in guiding him in the development of his capabilities. But even then, I didn’t insist that he think like me or comply with my wishes for his life.

I see myself as a guardian of Ocean’s spirit, rather than someone that is here to tell him what to do. In educating him about how to become a capable and self-sufficient adult, my part was to discern how to awaken his inner fire, draw out his inner wisdom, pique his curiosity and expand his capacity to learn. My role as a parent, and now as a friend, is to help my son achieve and fulfill his destiny by honoring his vision for his life. In remaining attentive to his natural talents and special gifts, we discern what he needs to continue growing into his personal power.

Intergenerational collaboration such as we have requires a bridge built of shared values, love, mutual respect, trust and support. I am in awe of Ocean, who doesn’t just stand on my shoulders; he flies from them as a courageous humanitarian responsive to the needs our times, as well as being a wonderful father himself.

How do your workshops help both elders and youths bridge the gap between the generations?

We use creative, thoughtful activities that build heart-filled community. Basically, we create space for learning how each life stage brings its own gifts, challenges and valuable perspectives. We learn to recognize that we need each other, across the age spectrum, to grow, heal, have fun and create thriving lives and communities.

Our children and grandchildren come into the world carrying the seeds of the future. They come endowed with new possibilities, new understandings and new energies. If as elders we wisely support them with the respect and assistance younger people deserve, they can accomplish things we cannot. They may be able to correct the errors of past generations, including our own. Then our children will not only be free to be themselves, they will bring a new breath of life into the world.

Linda Sechrist is a senior staff writer for Natural Awakenings magazines.

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