PROBLEMS OF MODERN YOUTH
It has been rightly said that we spend the first half of our lives trying to understand the older generation, and the second half trying to understand the younger generation. This is nothing peculiar to the modem age. It has always been so. Every age has its own problems. Youth has always felt somewhat exasperated with age, and age has always been suspicious of youth. With their natural ebullience and impatience, a majority of young people is keen to act and learn on their own rather than be guided by the experience of their elders. The older people, being more at home with words rather than with action, often make noises about the problems of youth. In every generation, old men are found shaking their hoary heads and waxing nostalgic about the good old days when young people knew better and showed due reverence to age and tradition. In all ages, whenever they have pondered over the ways of youth, they have foreseen nothing but ruination staring the world in its face. And yet the world goes on. Every generation passes from the spontaneity and exuberance of youth to the caution and prudence of old age, and then yields place to the next.
Some of the charges brought against modem youth are that they represent a rudderless generation without any ideals to live by, or cause to live for. Without the redeeming influence of faith, they are afflicted with a compulsive reverence which manifests itself in increasing defiance of parental authority and revolt against established social, moral and behavioural norms. On the slightest pretext they take to the streets, indulging in violence and destruction. They want to attract attention to themselves through unconventional behaviour and clothes. A majority of them have fallen victims to self-pity, mister med as alienation. They are becoming a generation of drug addicts and have developed an aversion to honest, hard work, ever on the lookout to have something for nothing. It is no longer anxious youth going forth into a hostile world. Now, it is hostile youth going forth into an anxious world, which is not sure, what to expect from it.
This is a formidable list of charges and it will require on army of psychologists to ascertain the truth of the allegations made and to analyze the erratic behaviour patterns referred to. But even from the layman’s point of view, the indictment appears to be patently one-sided. It betrays a lack of sympathetic understanding and realistic appreciation of the dilemma in which the younger generation finds itself today.
If we come to think of it, it is not that only the younger generation is feeling restless. As a matter of fact, human society itself is in a state of flux. And that is not a recent development. A profound change has been coming over it for the last quarter of a century. It started with those who had fought in the Second World War They had been brought up in an atmosphere impregnated by conformism. But after they had borne the brunt of fighting for seven long years, their outlook was radically changed. They came to acquire a rather equivocal attitude towards established authority as also towards long-accepted social mores and codes of conduct. They had seen the death and destruction wrought by the war. It diminished their respect for the wisdom of old age because it was the old men—their fathers—who had started the war. The catastrophes of death and destruction, which had visited the world twice in thirty years eloquently, showed that the old had bungled, and that their claims to mature wisdom were false. Then the general erosion of law and order, which is natural in times of war, wrought a profound change in the spirit of the age. An attitude of dissent and irreverence came to replace spontaneous faith and quiet acceptance of the status quo. Thus, it was the old people themselves who sowed the seeds of that arrogance of which they complain so bitterly while discussing modem youth.
A fast-growing population has increased to complexities of life in our times and the fantastic technological progress triggered off by the Second World War. These two factors combined have brought about great socio-political changes during the last three decades, both in the industrialized countries of the west and in the underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa.
Growing affluence in the developed societies of the West has generated among the people there a restlessness, which pines for instant rewards. Pursuing the mirage, parents have little time to devote to their children and to properly direct and supervise their activities. The children have all the money they need, and seldom face the need to work for a living. The result is that they try to attract attention in other ways and seek excitement in drugs and permissiveness.
In the underdeveloped countries also, young people are feeling disgruntled because their visions of a happy future are being obliterated either by internal strife or by political opportunism. Very few among such countries are enjoying political stability and even in them, more often than not, it is a particular class which is cornering most of the rewards of technological progress. This provokes the young to protest against rampant corruption in society and the denial of social justice.
In the circumstances, is it to be wondered at if all talk of dedication to ideals, renewed moral vigour, basic virtues etc. leaves the young cold and unconvinced? They are no longer prepared to blindly accept whatever their elders choose to ram down their throats. They are prone to subject to critical review all the social and political values they are called upon to accept When they see high-sounding principles invariably being ignored for expediency, political leaders deliberately hoodwinking the masses, vested interests being allowed to frustrate the state at every step, corruption common in high places and other gaping differences between promise and performance, they naturally become cynical and clamour for change.
Students form a very important group among the youth of all nations. Like the others in the same age group, they too have ample reason to be dissatisfied with the state of affairs in our educational institutions. Their biggest and most legitimate grievance is that what they learn after putting in so much time, effort and money has very little relevance to the realities of life with which they come face to face after leaving the university. Rather than equipping them to make an honourable living, education appears to be rendering them unemployable. Therefore, it is but natural that they should want to have a say in determining what should be taught so that it has some relevance to their future life and its needs. They would no longer tolerate politickers masquerading as teachers. They are not prepared to concede that the educational authorities have also to act as the guardians of their morals. They consider themselves quite capable of looking after themselves.
If we look at the problems of youth today in the light of foregoing, it will be apparent that it is not the young alone who are to blame for the state of mind in which we find them. They may well be charged with being ignorant of what they want. But they surely know what they do not want. Theirs is a movement of protest against hypocrisy and lack of integrity in their elders, an expression of moral revulsion against corruption in society. Students are up in arms against displays of hollow pedantry and alienated erudition in educational institutions, the lack of living contact between students and teachers, and the unresponsiveness of the whole educational system to the need for change. The young are protesting against the difference between the myth and reality of the society in which they are growing.
Evidently, this concern for the future and this anxiety to rescue life from hypocrisy is very laudable indeed. But it cannot be said that the young are all the time guided by such high purpose, or that their choice of methods is always happy. Dissent is necessary—in fact obligatory when things go wrong. But when it descends from the verbal level to the physical, it invites tragedy. Violence comes natural to youth. The young, supremely sure that the authority against which they are up in arms is unjust and oppressive, and feeling certain of the correctness of their own stand, react emotionally. The intensity of their feelings is such that it fills them with hatred and they turn to violence.
Those who advocate taking to the streets to give vent to feelings of grievance plead that no one pays attention to words any longer. But this^ way of thinking is dangerous. Violence is an expression of intolerance. As the President of the Yale University said some time ago, the ugliness of the radical is no different from the ugliness of the reactionary. Both share the sin of arrogance, which is the enemy of freedom. In a general unleashing of violence, dissent is the first casualty.
On the whole, the younger generation today is much misunderstood and more maligned than it deserves. The world, which it is going to inherit, will be immensely more exciting than the world of its predecessors ever was or could be. At the same time, life will present to it a much bigger and far more complex challenge. It would not do to condemn it and find fault with it that is easy enough. What is really important is that it is treated with understanding so that it can develop its faculties to reshape the world it is going to inherit in accordance with its noblest vision.