Just an Observation

Often we hear our elders saying that our generation is different from theirs in lot many ways.

One thing in particular being that the current generation is relatively less aware and alert politically than they were back then. Also, that at times, we lack the motivation and enthusiasm necessary to do stuff that would be beneficial for the country. Sometimes they also say it in a different way: “Today’s generation is smart and practical”. I can neither agree with them nor deny them. We both might be right from certain perspectives. We might be smart and practical thanks to technology and global exposure, and I wonder what they mean when they say practical. But this bugs me sometimes and honestly I also feel that they might be right. I see this in my field as well. After graduation, only a limited no. of students opt for research. Now, even Army is feeling the heat.

I recently came across a famous speech by Richard Hamming that he gave at Bell Labs, titled You and Your Research. Its a really inspiring speech and has lots of lessons for life, that must often be read. At the end of the speech there were some Q/A asked. One question caught my eye, something that I often find asking myself:

Question: The remarks about having courage, no one could argue with; but those of us who have gray hairs or who are well established don’t have to worry too much. But what I sense among the young people these days is a real concern over the risk taking in a highly competitive environment. Do you have any words of wisdom on this?

Hamming: I’ll quote Ed David more. Ed David was concerned about the general loss of nerve in our society. It does seem to me that we’ve gone through various periods. Coming out of the war, coming out of Los Alamos where we built the bomb, coming out of building the radars and so on, there came into the mathematics department, and the research area, a group of people with a lot of guts. They’ve just seen things done; they’ve just won a war which was fantastic. We had reasons for having courage and therefore we did a great deal. I can’t arrange that situation to do it again. I cannot blame the present generation for not having it, but I agree with what you say; I just cannot attach blame to it. It doesn’t seem to me they have the desire for greatness; they lack the courage to do it. But we had, because we were in a favorable circumstance to have it; we just came through a tremendously successful war. In the war we were looking very, very bad for a long while; it was a very desperate struggle as you well know. And our success, I think, gave us courage and self confidence; that’s why you see, beginning in the late forties through the fifties, a tremendous productivity at the labs which was stimulated from the earlier times. Because many of us were earlier forced to learn other things – we were forced to learn the things we didn’t want to learn, we were forced to have an open door – and then we could exploit those things we learned. It is true, and I can’t do anything about it; I cannot blame the present generation either. It’s just a fact.
Source.

Then it hit me. Often what the elders say, might be right, but its just that they probably are not looking at it the way Hamming described it. To understand in a better way, let’s look at the situation in more detail.

The time that the earlier generation used to live in was really chaotic. India had just gained independence, the nation building process had just started, and loads of things were to be done. The whole nation had participated in the Independence movement, following and supporting Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and other great leaders. Back then they had, as Hamming puts it: tasted the success of their hard work and courage. People had really earned their independence and therefore they knew its value. They had suffered greatly under the British regime. They fought back and had eventually won the battle. They knew that only half of the job was accomplished and the other big task of building the nation from scratch remained. It had to be a collaborative effort.

At such point, it is bound to happen that one would find himself brimming with confidence and enthusiasm. That desire to create something new; that feeling of doing something for the nation, something that they had very recently experienced; it was still fresh. And it was this very feeling that triggered people to do something. Motivation and strong will are the 2 major forces that drive a person to accomplish whatever task he decides to do. Back then, people had both: The motivation from the fact that they had played a key role in the freedom struggle and their efforts reaped rich results, and the strong will to carry on with the same zeal that was in a way catalysed by this very motivation. These teachings were subsequently passed on to the next generation which might also have had a glimpse of that period. This is probably the generation to which our parents belong to.

Compare that to today, phew, we have so many things to do everyday! People do not have time to think about themselves, leave aside anything else. And in all this hustle-bustle, somewhere we are slowly forgetting that we are indebted to our nation. Again, I am not trying to criticize and teach you anything new here. I am just putting up my thoughts on how I see it. Simply paying your taxes does not count as doing your duty. The 2 major forces come into picture here as well: Motivation and strong will. I even think that strong will is not in question here. It then boils down to motivation. What stops us from getting motivated to do our bit for the well being of this country? Well, what does not!! Materialistic and corrupt society, preference to individual over the nation, fast paced lifestyle, etc. Everything that we are surrounded by. Another important contributor to this phenomenon were the economic reforms of 1991.

What can we do then? Does it really come to the so called values and culture of our country? I would say yes, in a way. Its essentially the value and culture that are being passed on since ages. Our grandparents taught those to our parents and so on. Of course, we have every right to question them and not follow them blindly. But think about this: How do we learn about our past? Through books, through the teachings passed down from our parents and grandparents, isn’t it? To inculcate all these values into our lives blindly would be foolish but so would be to ignore them without pondering upon them! Societies change in due course of time but the core values should and must be preserved. We cannot create or simulate situations similar to that in our past, but we can try learning from their outcomes.

One might argue that where does culture and values come into picture here. Well, I am trying to comprehend the way our elders thought when they were young, compared to us. And also the kind of environment that they were brought up into. That affects one’s attitude and the way one leads his life. I am trying to understand what is the difference in the society that we are living in now and that was there 60 years ago and how it made all the difference in an individual’s attitude. The values and culture are links between these societies that act as a type of benchmark.

Apart from the points mentioned above, the other big motivational factor was the presence of great leaders. They were the heroes of the masses. They had led the battle to free the country. Everybody wanted to be like them. And I would even say that this factor must have often surpassed their own motivational reasons. Compare that to today, people hardly take interest in politics. The corruption level in the bureaucratic system is so high that I think most of us have given up any hope that it is still possible to get back on track from here. Why then bother knowing anything about it. But politics is an essential part of the democratic system and however polluted it might be, something has to be done about it.

In a nutshell, my point being that when its said that we lack motivation and enthusiasm, its right but its not something for which we can be blamed blatantly. We were born and brought up in a post liberalisation era, where talks of nationalism and patriotism were rare. On the flip side, ask yourself a question: How many people you know celebrate their patriotism on days other than 15th August and 26th January? I am not saying that all is lost. We have young people who are still carrying forward that enthusiasm and working hard for the country. In fact now it requires more courage and confidence than ever before to do so, as this is something different from our normal lifestyle of today. There are youngsters in the army, in research, and in many other fields. Though the drop in the number does raise some concerns. But I think as time progresses, more and more of us will try to do our bit. We humans are like this aren’t we: we wake up only at the last minute.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted August 29, 2010 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t have expressed the whole situation in a better manner. The whole concepts of our young generation afraid to leave its comfort zone has made India mere a service industry. We don’t realize the nature of our slavery. Young generation capable of becoming backbone of our society is captured very early by conglomerates. Unless people receive money they don’t bother what kind of work they are doing. The conditional stimulus of binding the best minds through money has turned into a conditional response of entering into comfort zone very early in life.

    But there is a silver lining in this cloud. A bunch of people who realize this fact will come forward and be a role model. It would be a realization that neo had in the Matrix, the realization of understanding the whole system that we are engulfed in. Only those who has the intelligence to understand it will understand it. For everyone else it will just be a normal life. Only a few among us those who understand the whole irony will have the courage to defy the system. Rest will be mute spectators.

    Nevertheless its just a few individuals that act as a harbinger of change. The irony is that whole situation is like an orgasm, you can’t just tell what it is like, it has to be experienced! Even after reading this article many won’t just understand what you are talking about. But a few of those who realize the trap are going to break the shackles somewhere in the future.

    • Posted August 30, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Hi,
      Thanks Rohit for the great input. Its great that now few people are realizing this and are doing something about it. And its a start!! Hopefully others will do the same as well.

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