Apr 28, 2010

Generation gap is characterized by wide divergence in views and approach between members of two generations. When you consider these views, there is no right or wrong or, in other words, both are right depending on the viewpoint. For instance, when I was in college, I sought my father’s permission to buy a scooter. I had visions of an affordable and quick private transport, easy parking etc. My father consented but asked me to buy one with a side car. His concern was about safety, speed limits etc. The gap was there but each of us was right in his own way.

The generation gap doesn’t seem to have been a major problem in the past perhaps because life was relatively stable. You lived in the same house and generally retired from the same company you had joined. But, today, it  is the age of specialists and a single individual, whether it is father or uncle, cannot have updated information on all aspects of life. Tomorrow, if my daughter decided to become a clinical psychologist, for example, it is impossible for me to say a clear yes or no. At best, I can guide her to seek factual information from professionals in the field. If I use some incomplete sketchy information I have and come to a judgment, I may do more harm than good. A friend of mine with genuine artistic talent was dissuaded from joining the advertising line by his father. The father worked in the marketing department of a multinational company (with no direct responsibility for marketing) and his only exposure to the advertising world was through the glamorous client service girls sent by the agency.  He came to the conclusion that this was not a nice place for decent kids.

We are conditioned and brought up to respect elders and their views. This is often good because the elders have more life experience and can pass on valuable tips to the younger generation. Yet, things can go wrong when elders cross their areas of competency and pass on advice on everything under the sun. A friend of mine was planning to buy a second hand car. His usage was minimal and he saw no point in blocking a large sum and buying a new car. He informed his father about buying a second hand car (not sought permission).  The father made an observation that buying a new car would be better. He is now saddled with a huge monthly EMI and an almost idle fast depreciating car. This man is not some young, inexperienced person. He is approaching his 50’s and a senior officer in a bank, but was still considered incapable of taking such a decision.

In my view, while elders deserve respect and consideration, it is neither unconditional nor one way. The elders also need to understand the changed times and not live in an ivory tower. They also need to be able to figure out when to intervene and when to keep off.  I have some elders-distant relatives, who sometimes speak disparagingly about my choice of career, place of residence etc.  This would be acceptable if they had gone into the subject in depth or tried to understand the circumstances that led to the choice. Otherwise, it just appears like an ego trip.

As they say, God gave us relatives (elders), but thank God, we can choose our friends.  I have often got sincere, practical and constructive advice from friends, even though some of them are far younger than me. They do not dish out advice from a high pedestal but gently probe and understand the context with compassion. They are in tune with the changing mores of society and are not judgmental. I can ‘be myself’ with them and feel loved and understood, regardless of what I say or don’t say, do or don’t do. Sadly, except for an honorable few, I cannot say the same about my experience with elders.