29 Jun GENERATION GAP
Does such a gap exist really or is it only imaginary? If it is real, can it be filled, removed, or bridged? Who should bell the cat? These and many other questions need to be considered while dealing with this topic. Since the scope of this article doesn’t permit a full treatment of the subject, a few relevant areas are dealt with here.
Origin and definition
First recorded around the 1300s; Middle English generacioun, from Middle French, from Latin generātiōn- (stem of generātiō) denoting line of descent; body of individuals born and alive at about the same time. ‘Generate’ comes from the Latin generāre, which means “to beget”.
One generation may be defined as a group of individuals, most of who are the same approximate age, having similar ideas, issues, and attitudes. The average span of years between the birth of parents and the birth of their offspring, considered in accordance with human population studies, refer to a generational range as about 20–35 years.
Serious analysis of generations began in the nineteenth century, emerging from an increasing awareness of the possibility of permanent social change and the idea of youthful rebellion against the established social order. Way back in 1923, social scientist Karl Mannheim in his essay, The Problem of Generations elaborately dealt with the theory of generations. However, subsequently many other sociologists have undertaken further research into this topic and have propounded various theories.
The theory of generation gap was introduced in the 1960s. Around this time it was observed that the younger generation questioned and went against almost everything that their parents believed. This included their religious beliefs, political views, moral values, advice on relationships and even the type of entertainment they preferred.
An example from Biblical history
Ezra 3:12–13. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
We see mixed responses to the same event. The older generation expressed their pain and grief by weeping, while the younger generation shouted with great joy. Both the expressions blended into one indistinguishable sound that could be heard far away.
Very often that’s what we find in every generation. The merging of the differing voices together makes up the joint expression of both the generations. Though they co-exist they are distinctly different.
“Praise is not the only note that sounds on this remarkable occasion. It is not altogether clear why the veterans wept. Nostalgia may have overwhelmed them, marking the beginning of the defeatism that Haggai condemned (Hag 2:3). The united community was already showing tensions. The mixture of rejoicing and sadness characterizes this event, which, while a triumph, fell far short of the great hopes the people might have had (Hag 2:2–9). Thus, there was joy at seeing the foundations of the temple laid but sorrow that it would not match the former temple’s glory.” (D.A. Carson; NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible; 2018)
“A final specific point of continuity between the first and second temples is provided by a reference to the older members of the congregation whose long lives further helped to bridge the interrupted worship on this site.” (H.G.M. Williamson; Word Biblical Commentary; 1985)
Classification of generations
Many generations have come and gone since the creation of the world. The Biblical authors gave a lot of importance to include the mention of each generation represented by the name of the patriarch. Though the age gap between each of those were very wide, they co-existed with minimal differences and overlapped in their social dispositions.
But modern times have seen a sea change in the various categories of generations that have populated the earth since the beginning of the twentieth century. Due to limitations of space, a detailed treatment of each of those cannot be undertaken here.
We in India, lean more towards the broad Western model despite major differences, among the older generations. But generally, we consider our independence from the British Rule in August 1947 as the most important generational shift. This has led to the use of the phrases, Pre-independence and Post-independence generations. There were marked features that would characterize both generations in the socio-political, cultural and religious areas of their life in India.
Like in India, many other countries have distinctive generational markers other than the broad Western classification model.
Both the World Wars of the twentieth century, for example, can be seen as major milestones in the classification process. Those born between 1901 & 1927, 1928 & 1945, 1946 & 1964, have been classified with different names for each generation. Then came the Generation X who were born between 1965 & 1980 and the Millennials or Generation Y who were born between 1981 & 1996 came after them. Generation Z are the ones who were born between 1997 & 2010. Since those after 2010 are the first generation entirely to be born in the 21st Century, are called the Generation Alpha. Each sets its own trends and has its own cultural impact.
A cursory look at the years mentioned above will set various pictures in motion in our minds about the small and big differences that people had in each of those generations. Generation gap is the term given to the difference between two generations. The society changes at a constant pace and hence the lifestyle, ideologies, opinions, beliefs and the overall behaviour of people also undergoes change with time. This change gives way to newer ideas and breaks the unreasonable stereotypes and this in turn brings about a positive impact on the society. However, most often it becomes a cause of conflict between two generations also.
One generation’s innovation becomes the next generation’s tradition.
One of the very common examples of generation gap is between parents and their children. They share psychological and emotional gaps which give rise to a lot of highs and lows between them. There is also a lack of understanding between them; sometimes children prefer to talk in language that is not so common for their parents, and it becomes difficult for them to understand.
The use of language by one generation that is different from the other is one of the most conspicuous areas where the gap is most evident, creating difficulties in day-to-day communication at home, school, workplace, and marketplace. The new generation expresses itself quite differently from the older one with their ever-changing slang consisting of various sets of colloquial words and phrases that establish or reinforce their social identity. Every generation develops a new slang, but with the development of technology, understanding gaps have widened between the older and younger generations. The term ‘communication skills,’ for example, might mean formal writing and speaking abilities to an older worker. But it might mean e-mail and instant-messenger savvy to a twenty-year-old. Text messaging on mobile phones has developed a form of slang that keeps those not as tech-savvy, out of the loop. Children increasingly rely on personal technological devices like cell phones to define themselves and create social circles apart from their families, changing the way they communicate with their parents. Cell phones, instant messaging, e-mail and the like have encouraged younger users to create their own inventive, unusual and very private written language.
Perhaps, the most cited difference between older and younger generations is technological proficiency. Studies have shown that their reliance on technology has made millennials less comfortable with face-to-face interaction and deciphering verbal cues. The computer culture has led to decreased reading of books.
The next major area where a generation gap can be seen is in their attire. What was considered taboo by the older generation, has become fashionably trendy among the younger generation. Young women wearing tracks and tees even at formal occasions are not uncommon these days. Young men have no issues wearing Bermuda shorts and T-shirts wherever they deem it appropriate.
Bridging the gap
The ‘give and take’ principle needs to be employed at all levels on either side. Only when there is an unselfish attitude of learning from one another, regardless of the age factor, can bridging of the generation gap be facilitated. It takes plenty of humility and gracious generosity on either side to work towards reducing the gap between the generations.
Fresh ideas and perspectives are required to combat the stereotypical ways and means by which issues are handled while solving problems. But this should be done by trying to incorporate as much of the tried and proven best practices. Through the amalgamation of the old and the new, a fresh perspective will emerge that will be beneficial to both groups.
It is only natural that people belonging to one generation are very different from the other. Every generation faces the challenge of accepting the new generation with their unconventional ideas, values and choices. Difficulties arise when people from different generations try to impose their ideas and beliefs on one another while condemning those of the other. Differences have to be ironed out and difficulties sorted out in a spirit of camaraderie while appreciating the positive influences of each other. Accepting one another as fellow human beings created in the image of God and recognizing the fact that each generation has to fulfil their God-given roles and purposes to the praise of His glory hopefully will diminish the gap between them.
Joseph Jacob is a retired missionary after serving for forty years in several organizations like UESI, World Vision, INTERSERVE-India, and Wycliffe India. He lives with his wife, Laila at Aluva in Kerala. They have six children and five grandchildren. Currently he serves as the President of UESI-Kerala.