Understanding Generation Gap

One of the first things we used to do after entering our college was to see the notice-board. We would make mental notes of rescheduled classes or write down the longer notices like exam dates. It was a part of our daily routine. A few years later, when I was passing through the same corridors (as a UESI staff), I noticed a student, she came up to the same notice-board, took out her cell-phone snapped a photo, and moved on! I realized this was a new generation. Well, I am not that old, we had cell phones during our days as well, it’s just that we were too used to taking written notes.

Generation Gaps are all around us, it is defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “the differences in opinions, values, etc., between younger people and older people.” If I may elaborate on the “etc”, it includes things like attitudes, lifestyle, communication, and way of doing things. These gaps can be seen in every facet of human existence where people of different age-groups come together.

On the sports field, we can see this generational shift in the way our cricket teams played over the years. We always had talent but the generation of the Gavaskars and Kapil Devs seemed to lack the fight on foreign soil, they were known to be docile and gentlemanly. Then came the era of the Gangulys and Tendulkars who fought on equal terms with any team. We could see a new level of confidence and aggression. This went to newer heights with the Dhonis and Kohlis where the passion we see is very different to that of the former generations. The way each generation played is also different, the game has also evolved with time. The greats of the yesteryears will find themselves at a loss in the present day’s fast-paced athletic game.

What causes it?
This generational shift isn’t a fluke, it coincided with the liberalization of the Indian economy and the growth that followed. Gone are the days of the risk-averse Indian who only invested in Fixed Deposits, these are the days of young guns who have started investing in mutual-funds right from their college days. The previous generation grew up in an India that was still struggling to sustain itself. Thus, an entire generation was shaped to seek the security of government jobs. That generation worked hard and their toil paid off, today our country is full of potential. We see it in the rise of entrepreneurship, today’s generation embrace risk as an opportunity to live and work on their terms. Humans tend to be products of their environment, by this I mean the sum of all the influences in and around a person. This leads to the generational shifts we see around with the passage of time and change of conditions.

How it affects UESI?
Though UESI is a movement of the students, for the students and by the students, the students don’t remain students forever. Today’s students will become the staff and graduates of tomorrow. This has been our rich tradition and pattern. Different generations come together with their experiences and challenges, as we share lives we see God at work in and through us. This is how the tiny spark spread across the nation as a spreading flame and helped us become a nation-wide movement. The coming together of generations is essential to the story and ministry of UESI. But it isn’t without its problems.

The same generation gaps that we see in society exist among our ranks as well. The students today are unlike how we were during our college days (I am talking about a difference of ten years), the same students will be light-years away from the generation of our UESI Diamonds. These differences exist in the values, opinions, ideas for ministry, and way of doing things. I am sure we all have experienced it first-hand.
How is your Quiet Time? Did you do your Quiet Time? Why didn’t you do it? These are common questions we have grown up hearing, these questions in different ways have shaped many lives but are they relevant in today’s generation? Our students today are highly independent and protective of their private space. A question like that from a relative stranger is seen as an intrusion. Gone are the days of immediate opening up to the “annas and akkas” during two by two, today we need to build that level of trust before talking about personal matters.
Attention spans have come down drastically, many of our seniors talk about the lessons they learned from the marathon devotionals from our pioneers. My generation starts getting fidgety when we cross the forty minutes mark. This doesn’t mean that one generation is better than the other, what I am trying to highlight are the differences. We think differently and even learn differently. A lecture today is nothing but boring but add in a few activities, make them smile, feel at home and the attention is all yours.

Let me now bring out the effects of the generation gap in our understanding of “relationships”, this is one area where the generation gaps seem to be at its widest. Getting into a “relationship” was once considered to be taboo in our society but today it’s common-place. Not being in a relationship, on the other hand, causes worry and anxiety in many youngsters. It may seem ridiculous but these are our realities. “Same-sex relationships” have also become common, many of our students have friends who are gay, some of our students may be struggling with questions in their minds. What may have seemed far-fetched in another generation is an everyday affair in another. Our students exist on campuses where their friends talk about all of this openly. How can we help them? Are we even able to relate to them? Herein lies the challenges with the Generation Gap.

We may feel that we have answers and in our rush, we mutter ten different Bible verses along with supporting arguments and in the process forget to relate with our students, understand their story, and listen. If we have ears then let us listen to our students – I believe that will be a great first step towards disarming the harms of this generation gap. The student of today is not limited by options, he/she is surrounded by them, therefore the moment they experience something unpleasant in our fellowships they are gone. I agree that students also need to do their part in bridging the gap but can we expect the first-years and the “not–so-interested students” to understand and appreciate the multi-generational ministry format.

The generation gap is self-evident, often we are too aware of it, so much so that we avoid student contact altogether. This can only lead to a decay in our fervor and ministry. Things get more complicated in our ministry as our generation gaps co-exist with gaps at the cultural level as well. We are a diverse and vibrant movement, these are bound to exist. The challenge for us is to learn together despite the gaps. Our students love and cherish their independence, we have to understand this. We need to recognize that every generation is different, each generation has its strength and weaknesses, we need to appreciate and grow to love both our junior and seniors despite the differences.

What’s the way forward?
Listen! Those of us who are younger need to listen to our seniors, listening doesn’t mean agreeing or obeying, rather it means understanding their perspective. At the same time, those of us who are older also need to do the same, listen not just to respond rather to understand. May we prioritize the art of understanding before the need to be understood. Let us spend more time with people of different age-groups, it’s easier said than done but if generation gaps have to be minimized then these bridges have to be built. May the Lord who started this movement, with individuals from different generations coming together, keep us united and equip us to serve every generation of students till he returns.

Shashank S. Rawat and his wife Asa are UESI Staff workers for West Bengal.

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