26 August, 2008

Bridging The Generation Gap

The very existence of a “generation” is dependant on its comparison with the one before and after it – which makes difference between generations inevitable and rather necessary for the sake of definition. Arranged in chronological order, today’s society is an amalgam of four generations- baby boomers, Gen X, the MTV Generation and Gen Y. Clashes in viewpoints (social, political, religious and moral), differences in musical and sartorial tastes, norms of acceptable behavior and priorities therefore is not surprising. This phenomenon is what we commonly refer to as a “generation gap”. This “gap” stems from the inability of the young and the old to understand and identify with each other. Although some people may rubbish the whole concept and label it passé, the impact of generational differences are evident is practically every sphere of life; including family, education, career, marriage and retirement plans. Each generation works in its own distinct pattern and strives to be as different as possible from the one preceding them.

A typical conversation between a parent and teenager is bound to be interspersed with phrases like “In our days….”; “are you actually going to wear that outfit”; “things are different now”; “give me a break ma” and “I need my space”. While the older generation always sees the younger one as inexperienced and irrational, the younger lot thinks they are old-fashioned and not at all “moving with the times”. Neither of them is wrong in their assumptions- it is just that the older generation refuses to accept that their children have moved out of the cradle and need to make their own decisions. The younger generation on the other hand, fails to realize that their parents mean well and expect them to learn from experience and mistakes rather than committing them on their own. For most teenagers, parents are always the dictator who cannot bear to see them happy. Many parents often find themselves entirely phased out as they make futile attempts to communicate and understand their children- only to end up wishing they had never grown up! The conflict is brought out beautifully in Joyce Carol’s “Where are you going, Where have you been? When Connie’s mother nags her: “Why don’t you keep your room clean like your sister? How’ve you got your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don’t see your sister using that junk.” Connie “wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over”. “She makes me want to throw up sometimes,” she complains. The first glimpse of generation gap usually surfaces during the teenage years and this is often only the beginning.

Conflicts between parents and children often arise out of parent’s irrational expectations out of their child as they expect the latter to achieve what they desired to but could not. Young adults are constantly subjected to pressure from parents urging them to follow a conventional career path without acknowledging their aptitude and potentials. A teenagers desire to establish his own worth in a chosen field is overlooked and often clouded by parental aspirations for them. As Bruno Bettelheim aptly puts it: “Youths come to grief nowadays because of their parent’s insistence that the former justify themselves as parents rather than because of any revived oedipal desires for their mothers or fathers”. A child may succumb to pressure and achieve what a parent desires of him but that does not necessarily amount to internal happiness and emotional well-being of the child. In “The Setting Sun and the Rolling World” by Charles Mungoshi , Nhamo thinks that his father has “given him nothing and all”- something which reflects many a teenager’s opinions as they pine for freedom of decision along with the basic facilities provided to them. The older generation sometimes fail to realize that even though there children are dependant on them for survival, they are also old enough to have opinions and aspirations of there own. It is only when the old generation refuses to step back in order to make for new ideas and culture; does generation conflicts arise.

Pattern of education has also undergone a sea change with a shift in focuses and priorities. “Whilst today’s education system encourages individuality, and expression of opinion, the education system of the 40s and 50s put a firm emphasis on discipline and uniformity” (BBC). Education now had transcended beyond bookish knowledge and lays more emphasis on over-all character development. Mediums like internet and tele-education were practically unheard of in the 50’s and 60’s and hence the Boomers had only their books and a few audio-visual sources to rely upon. The newer generation was encouraged to analyze and interpret books based on their own sensibilities as opposed to memorizing and reproducing text which was a common mode of learning until a few years ago. This change is now reflected in the difference in approach of the two generations in problem-solving and teaching methods. Boomers also find it difficult to see sense in recent trends like blogging and networking for friends and dating. They would rather spend money on an international call than try to endlessly chat over the internet for free just because they were not exposed to such concepts in their formative years.

Even in the professional arena, Boomers are known as the more “subtle” generation and X-ers and Y-ers are subjected to continuous scrutiny regarding the clothes they wear, the language they use and the time they put into their work. Often, the young employee’s expression of self though tattoos, radical fashion and body piercing is met with resentment from the Boomer leading to workplace conflicts. The latter views such fashion as “offensive”, “un-professional” and even “vulgar”. They tend to emphasize more upon the young worker’s personal attributes that his/her professional credibility. According to Dan Kadlec- co-author of The Power Years, a guide for boomers- “Tensions typically stem from perceptions of loyalty and respect - as in, we think the kids don’t have any”. Along years the work pattern has also undergone a drastic transformation. The generation of Boomers has seen extreme struggle and job scarcity which is not the case with the younger lot. As a result, the latter are more willing to take risks in their careers, change jobs and switch professions – all of which was unthinkable of in the 70’s and 80’s. While a Boomer would not think much of working past office hours and even on weekends, an X-er has stringent rules about personal and professional time and does not allow one to infringe upon the other .nevertheless; they do not compromise on quality and efficiency by being more focused. Also, thirty-something’s are accustomed to following their job blindly without raising an eye-brow to the instructions. They feel irked and offended when a twenty-something questions their authority and demands explanations and view this as a mark of disrespect- even when it may simply stem from curiosity and a need to establish a logic in implementing instructions. The older generation still prefers to communicate via the old fashioned and formal means like meetings and letters and the new generation considers it perfectly acceptable to convey a professional message via a short e-mail or text message. According to the Boomers the X-ers and Y-ers lack serious work ethic whereas the latter feel that the former refuse to embrace chance which is essential for progression.

The generation of Boomers witnessed the trend of young adults moving out of their parental homes around the age of eighteen in pursuit of education or jobs and to establish an identity and family of their own. According to Marcia Mogelonsky “When a college education became the norm for a large share of American women and men, the deferral of adulthood began. People got married later, had children later, bought homes later, and started careers later”. Most people now prefer to live with their parents in order to save money for other luxuries without feeling ashamed. By doing this they also enjoy the freedom of making choices and exploring options without being burdened with the responsibility of home and family. In her article titled “The Rocky Road to Adulthood”, Marcia Mogelonsky quotes psychologist Ross E. Goldstein: “It may be time to redefine the meaning of being `grown-up.’ If we continue to apply the same standards used to identify the transition from childhood to adulthood among baby boomers, we may discover that Generation X will never grow up”. The boundary between adolescence and adulthood is fast fading as people as meeting the requirements for adulthood like education, job and family relatively late in life.

According to Carole Bonnet women are increasingly making their presence felt in all professional fields and the incidence of career breaks among women are gradually decreasing. In the coming generations, the gap between the retirement ages for men and women is expected to close in. in many countries the new generation is striving hard to eradicate gender bias, racism and class discrimination.

David Plotz examines the difference between Generation X and Y and feels that Generation Y is a more “cheerful” generation as it marks a significant decrease in social mal-functions like teenage pregnancy, racism, drug abuse, teenage crime and school drop-outs- all of which were rampant in the 80’s and 90’s. After the tumultuous years it comes as a pleasant surprise when teenagers take active interest in spirituality and social causes. In his article titled “The American Teenager”, he says: “the slump of the 90’s has been replaced by eternal boom; the cynical pessimists of Gen X have been replaced by cheery Y’s”. this is probably a consequence of increasing awareness and incorporation of sex- education and psychological counseling as part of the educational curriculum. Plotz also observes that the new generation does not resort to rebellion- rather they believe in “New Earnestness” and “New Familism”. The Y-ers are keener on attending church as opposed to the X-ers who believed in rebelling against any and every thing that they were expected and asked to do.

Even after noting the vast generation gap, it would be incorrect to say that two generations have little in common. Although there might be a vast difference between opinions, views and tastes, generations seldom fail to find common ground in order to co-exist in harmony. Minor adjustments and willingness to be open-minded go a long way in bridging the eternal “generation gap”.

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