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An empowered generation

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Is it indifference, individualism or progressive thinking?With the Information Age making such a difference to theattitude and behaviour of the i-generation, parents andeducators also need a thought-shift, writes GEETA PADMANABHAN.

Knowing Gen-Y:To understand what motivates the young requires a deeper look into their psyche.Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma
Knowing Gen-Y:To understand what motivates the young requires a deeper look into their psyche.Photo: Sushil Kumar Verma

In the interview immediately after he won the Champions Trophy-2013 (and leaped around the stumps), Dhoni was asked: “There is a lot of energy in the field. Is it a change in the personnel or is it a cultural change?” A cultural change, agreed Dhoni, adding that one should not forget the improvement in infrastructure.

Ironically, it is for this very cultural change that our youth draw flak from all quarters. The ‘i-generation’, ‘Generation-Self’, we say, blaming them for everything from hike in prices to the high-density traffic choking our roads. We decry their attitudes, behaviour — labelling them irresponsible, self-centred and inconsiderate. They are gadget-driven, we rap, with no communication skills. The British Social Attitudes survey (from 1983-2010) tells us that today’s adults are less supportive of charity than their parents were, are less likely to favour reservation, feel less connected to society than previous generations. They are less interested in national institutions, in knowing their neighbours. The Guardian/ICM poll has evidence to show that among the young, solidarity is in short supply. “A rising generation... responds to its plight not by imagining any collective fightback, but by plotting individual escape.”

Have we raised a “heartless” generation, with “every man is an island” as its motto?

But look at it this way. The very same qualities we accuse them of also help them climb to the top of the world — in sports, innovation, management, politics. India won the Champions Trophy because its young team was not hobbled by traditional thinking. In a set of unorthodox moves, Rohit Sharma came out to bat first, Dhoni turned his arm for four overs to finish 0-17, Ashwin and Jadeja were allotted the last two overs to lead India to victory.

“I told them God helps those who help themselves, we had to play like the World's No. 1 side. I am happy we did that,” said Dhoni. “I'm glad all the new boys accepted the responsibility that was given to them. They took it as a challenge.” They didn't buckle under pressure, didn't give up till the last ball. Was this arrogance, or a single-minded aim? And in the haze of champagne, they remembered the tragedy back home. Shikhar Dhawan dedicated his golden bat to the flood victims in Uttarakhand.

Broader perspective

In the afterglow of this triumph, we are forced to believe that something is right with our young. They are the ones who bring trophies and medals, clear and fill abandoned lakes, clean beaches, run websites for teaching/afforestation/bus-ticketing, start businesses online/offline, rise against corruption and harassment and resist government policies. They connect digitally and collect themselves for their causes.

“They are not shadowed by the colonial-rule syndrome and take things in their stride,” says Uma Raman, soft-skills trainer. “Being mobile and tech-savvy has opened a window that has helped them grasp things on a wider scale. They are not hemmed-in by walls of prejudice. Hopefully they will also surmount political arrogance in education and, do away with caste barriers!” Compassion is ingrained in the youth, she insists. They do not display it, as it is not ‘macho’. Yes, they lack communication skills but only in situations where they are being judged on that aspect. In a non-formal, non-threatening situation they do express themselves. “They are highly competitive, but more important, proud of being Indians. You saw that in the team that won the C-Trophy!”

Sam Bowman, a young researcher at Adam Smith Institute sees the shift as one caused by a new cosmopolitanism, brought on by the Internet. “The Internet lets you speak to people you share interests with, wherever they live. Geographical unity is fine, but I think most people prefer the unity and friendship that comes from shared interests.” Polling shows that younger people are in favour of gender equality and supportive of gay rights.

They worry more about compatibility than community diktats. “Loss of solidarity is an inevitable result of consumerism,” says writer Ellie Mae O'Hagan. “We live in a society which encourages you to think of your own ambition, and maybe your family, but not society/community.” Another theory is, the younger generation is not uninterested in current affairs, but is remarkably focused on particular problems it wants to resolve. “The young are focused on what they want to do at a much earlier age than we did,” says Edwin Sudhakar, HR expert, narrating an incident. “My friend’s daughter decided to do hotel management when she was in Class VII. She had enough information from the Internet to argue that it was a profitable career. ‘Look at chef Damu!’ she said, and enrolled in a baking class.” Their empowerment comes from the same sources we say they spend too much time on — Smartphones, iPads, laptops. They crib less about negatives, take on the positives — the information age has strengthened their ambitions. If it’s marked by a sharply-curved moustache, why not?

The world has begun to respect the millennials, he says. Companies are using principles of gaming (different levels, rewards as in credit cards) to attract their young customers. It is we, parents, educators and employers who need a ‘thought shift’. What we call manipulation (behaviour that drives us wild) should be seen as ‘negotiation’. Their ready embrace of fashion/diet/career changes must be viewed as broad-mindedness. Their ideas must be welcomed as ‘creativity’. Yes, these youngsters have a problem facing failure. They have raised the bar of expectations for themselves and for their peers. “They can't take disappointment. This is where elders should step in with help.”

Remember Travie Mccoy’s lyrics?

“We are young, we run free

Stay up late, we don’t sleep

Got our friends, got the night

We’ll be alright.”


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