Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It might be sacrilege to contradict Tolstoy—especially one of his most famous opening lines, but I’ll just be the heretic and disagree. Both happy and unhappy families have at least one thing in common — and almost all unhappy families have very high levels of it. The ubiquitous generation gap. But if I put it another way, it’s all just ego.
Think about the seemingly nostalgic messages forever doing the rounds on social media — bringing you images from your childhood, of things existing then that have been made obsolete now by the onward march of technology, of ways of life that were simpler, slower and less gizmofied than the present era. The messages always end with how blessed you were and how unfortunate the new lot. You sigh and nod wistfully, ruing the terrible, mechanised life now — giving little thought to the fact that the generation preceding you had exactly the same thoughts about you.
And that is how the generation gap is created: through an excessive love for what you did, what you experienced and what you saw the world to be. It is not so much a product of the rapid changes around us as it is of our unwillingness to accept the inevitability of change. It is also a factor of the omnipresent human ego, which considers its own experiences, preferences and world-view to be superior to those of others.
Nostalgia isn’t a bad thing per se. It offers emotional release and creative expression, leads to shared memories, to stories that cast awe and wonder over the listeners. The problem arises when you begin to present your own way of life as the best, completely disparaging the next generation. In fact the generation that has lived longer, experienced more and witnessed changing eras should be the first one to understand that the world must necessarily move ahead, that there is no going back. It is up to us to understand the ways of the present, for we are all hurtling towards the future, and none shall ever return to the past.
When the television first arrived — as did the first generation of video games — the elders all rued how future generations would be ruined by it. Good or bad, the idiot box has been here to stay — and gaming has evolved to a whole new level altogether. Take it further back and perhaps when cars had arrived, people would have rued their advent in the same manner. However, the thing is, technological changes cannot be wished away — any more than social or ideological changes can. No matter what your reservations about them, they will be a way of life in the future.
As parents, guardians, nurturers, you would of course like to lay down ground rules, to pass on your legacy, to prevent actual damage to your offspring and future generations. But the best way to do that is to appeal to reason, to promote balance through good choices and good sense, instead of bringing in the old laments of “In our times…” or “kids these days…” . When you pit ‘your world’ against ‘their world’ you’re already setting the field for battle. The more reasonable way would be to lay out the options and show which ones have better outcomes.
However, it is equally important to adapt yourself to the new world — in terms of both the technological and the ideological — because it’s not just their world, it’s yours too. You’re still alive, aren’t you?
Zehra Naqvi