The Generation Gap

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The relationship between younger people and their elders today is a source of mental tension and conflict for the older generation.

I think this is somehow related with the social upbringing to which we have exposed our children. Parents tend to impose their own aspirations on their children, rather than allowing them to follow their own path in life. For example, a mother may want her child to become a doctor, a father may want the child to become an engineer. The majority of parents never ask the child, “What do you want to become?” They make their children in their own image according to their own expectations and then expect the children to fulfil those expectations.

In modern society there are many opportunities which people become aware of as they grow up. The younger generation feel that their parents have not given them that freedom to choose what they want to become and to lead an independent life. In a sense, it is social rebellion that makes children distance themselves from their parents. We put the blame, the onus of guilt, on the children and also on external influences.

Parents are unable to face their own guilt in not providing the right form of discipline or education or encouragement to their children. That is one of the major causes of what we call the generation gap. Parents think in one way, children think in another way. The same children who are now trying to prove to the world that they can be independent will have the same problems with their children later.

We impose our expectations on the younger generation for our own security and sense of fulfilment. We think of children as the support for our old age, but the changing scenario in the world does not furnish that kind of situation anymore. To avoid the anxiety or insecurity or mental crisis of parents who have reached a point where they are no longer actively participating in society, we should reflect now and guide our children differently. Parents must become friends to their children instead of being the judge, jury and executioner.

Why do people over 60 still experience stress and tension?

At that age they are not actively participating in the formation of society, and that becomes a source of stress. After retirement nobody gives them any recognition. A boss who has had many people under him suddenly finds himself isolated, because now nobody is fearful or afraid of him. That form of stress is more devastating than the usual work or family stress that we face, because it hurts the self-image, and loss of self-esteem or loss of a positive self-image destroys personalities.

Even at that age they are groping for a direction. What ideals should they pursue?

The answer to that is given in the system of the ancient Indian tradition. After retirement you are supposed to take a passive role in society. Until retirement you have a dynamic role in society: you are working, earning, a member of this club or society, participating in this charitable activity and doing many other things.

After retirement you have to concentrate on your spiritual and mental development through contemplation, reflection and meditation. You are supposed to adopt the role of the thinker so that the wisdom you have gained in life through experience becomes the source of inspiration to other people who have not had that experience. You have to be a guide and a thinker. That should be the natural transition from a working to a thinking person.

There are many ways of keeping oneself occupied. You can participate in some philanthropic activity. You can do the work instead of depending on servants. You can remain a part of society, but as a passive player. It is not just a meditative lifestyle where you sit down every day and think about God, do your pooja and read the scriptures. At the same time, during the day you are encouraged to have the role of teacher or farmer or grandparent or whatever, so that you can impart your knowledge and experience to others.

Published in Dignity Magazine, Mumbai, printed in YOGA, Vol.8, Issue 3 (May 1997)