Tuesday, November 06, 2007

M(Y) Generation

I belong to Generation Y, as most of you who would read this probably do also. Generation Y is a term – and now a cliché – that has been used in popular American and European literature to loosely describe those who were born in the 80’s and 90’s. I can't be sure whether it is used to describe Sri Lankans, but I use it anyway.

Generation Y in Sri Lanka has grown up in a nation at war. I was only a couple of years old when violence and death became a part of daily life in this land. We belong to a generation that has grown up without a clear memory of a month or even a week in which the blood of a man or woman has not been expended in the name of freedom, independence or national security. An average of seven lives has been lost everyday in our country since 1983 (7.6 lives if you are a statistician, but how can you factor a life?). There are no statistics about how many dreams each of them had or how many tears their loved ones have shed since. Nobody knows how many meals their families had to skip because they had lost the sole bread-winner.

Life in our time has taught us that the way of violence is indeed an acceptable mode of resolving differences among us. So we brawl each other on the roadsides, in classrooms (and in nightclubs or parties if we are unfortunately lucky enough to be able to afford them). Even though a few often gets more publicity when a minister's son is involved, such brawls are – it's fair to assume – a daily occurrence.

But we resort to violence because it helps us escape the fact that we are also helpless and aimless. If violence has not been bred into us, then thousands of us have been snatched away by it, denied of our childhood by the thrust of a gun onto our hands and forced to kill and get killed so that old men could claim the land that is stained with our blood. More than 250,000 under-aged children are estimated to be engaged in armed conflict around the world as I write this (and at least three thousand five hundred to four thousand of them are Sri Lankans – depending on whose estimates you believe and whether it matters to you and how much). Almost all of them will suffer for the rest of their lives as a result of their exposure to violence and the horrific images of war. Countless others – it's odd that I have to use the word "others" to describe our own – have been maimed and orphaned because of war.

Chief among the grandiosities of our inheritance is the notion of a romantic past, a grand history. It shields us sometimes from the insecurities of a misty future. What's more alarming is that it instils in us a false notion that the past is something we have to protect even at the cost of our very lives. It plugs our minds of independent thought and wisdom that would give us the courage to ask simple questions. Who are we fighting for? Who are we fighting against? The man or woman I am about to kill – would we not have married each other if we had not been forced to perpetrate such violence against each other?

We spend anxious hours thinking about a future that is approaching us faster than ever before and leaving us behind even faster. Yet we are told that we are the guardians of the future – a brighter one at that. We are urged to correct the mistakes of past generations and some are confident that we will. Some of our own are confident that our generation can change things for the better. Thomas Jefferson once said, "It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world." We don't have time for Jefferson because we have too many problems to solve and too little time. We imagine for some reason, that we are wiser than the generation that went before us.

The world today is fast-paced than it was yesterday and constantly accelerating. Some of us will keep up, some will fall behind. Some will slow the world down to their pace and others may speed it up even further. It is perhaps a futile exercise to speculate how successful each of us will be in overcoming the challenges of the present – let alone those of the future. Sheer optimism on the other hand, leads many to assume if not blindly hope, that the future generations are capable of solving, and therefore will solve, today's problems.

That is why it is worthy of our contemplation on the other hand, to consider how the violence we helplessly accept in daily life – the violence that has conscripted us, maimed us, orphaned us and made us insensitive to the value and beauty of life and the injustices we take for granted and the inequality they perpetuate as a result, has debilitated our generation. Even the most optimistic among us may find it difficult to deny that the racial and religious bigotry that divided previous generations has extended and spread its poisoned tentacles into ours as well. Each of us needs to take an almost blinding leap of the imagination – one that may even undermine what we think we already know – that would break us free from the dogma and falsities we have inherited. Perhaps justice, peace, prosperity and unity are only the collective effect of each individual's pursuit of truth, and an intellectual bias towards broad understanding instead of narrow judgement.

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