While some people argue that making generalizations on people’s behaviors and tendencies based on generation classes is simplistic, I think the concept of generation classes is both practical and logical. Practical because we see this around us every day. We don’t make up the stories of WhatsApp mums. Every now and again, we see something strikingly similar in a particular age group. Such things that make us wonder if these people were taught to react the same way. Logical because when you think about it, you’ll see that the conditions and culture surrounding the life of people affects their dispositions and motivations.
I was reading an interview of Min Jee Lee on the New Yorker where she talked about her hit novel that has now been adapted into an Apple + TV series, Pachinko. In this interview, she talked about how different generations of Koreans sought different things in life and her line of thought resonated with me. People born in war would generally tend towards survival and in the aftermath, escape. People born in comfort would be inclined to seek a deeper meaning in what they do; they won’t just want to take what promises survival, they have the luxury of preference.
I believe there are underlying patterns beneath the similarities that exist within individuals of a generation and the dichotomies that exist between different generations. These patterns underscore a lot of the disagreements between parents and their children; they’re also what’s fueling all the Twitter back and forths on Gen Z v. millennials and whatnot.
If there’s one thing storytelling has taught me, it’s this: humans have more in common than we realize. And even in our differences, when we probe them a little more, we’ll find that it’s similar back-end forces being channeled differently.
Instead of fixating on our differences and making it grounds for a sparing contest, I believe there’s always something to learn from those differences. There’s a Yoruba adage that is translated to mean the child’s hand cannot reach the top shelf, and the adult’s hand cannot enter the gourd. Owo omode o to pepe, owo agba owo keregbe. Very insightful. The different dynamics and conditions that constitute our upbringing and mental models usually make us tilt to an extreme, this extreme makes the next generation tend to the other extreme. The person who’d find balance will be the man wise enough to get the best of both worlds instead of do what’s more common and typical which is fighting the other generation.
I’ll share a true event I experienced a fictious one to buttress my point. Pardon me, story is the language I understand.
I went to this church sometimes back with my parents who were invited to minister, and the Sunday School had something to do with appropriate church conduct or something along that line. I can’t remember the details of the teaching but what’s hard to forget is the way plenty older folks had contributions on how youths are always pressing phone in church, how youths dress this one that one. majorly, their concern was this pressing phone matter. It seemed to be the pressing issue. *winks
I was seated near the back of the church. Fast forward to moments later when the service was in full swing. I sighted two men around where I was seated operating their phones during the service. Men and brethren, they were not youths. They fit perfectly in the demographic of the contributors. One was on Facebook, the other moved from app to app. In my mind I was like, see oh, and na youth dey press phone for church.
What’s my point? At the end of the day, when you reason am well, there’s no much difference across generations. There are amplified traits, there are prevalent habits but when the chips are down, the older folks are people, the younger folks are people. The older folks were once young, the younger folks will be old sooner than they realize. So, can we all just rest?
Benjamin grew up in a very conservative church. He could only read one version of the Bible; he was made to ask for forgiveness of sins four times a day- for no man knoweth the hour or day the Lord shall return. His clothes had to leave room for the Lord and angels. He could have no female friends. He watched as his church folks excommunicated Deacon Akhigbe because his son, Majesty started wearing nose ring when he travelled to the US for his studies. His mother had a fit when she learned he still kept in touch with Majesty on Facebook. That son of Belial! You want him to influence you? You want to go to hell faya? To deal with the flesh for his rebellion, he was made to go on a three day fast.
Eventually, Benjamin got into the University. He joined a campus fellowship where he was rightly indoctrinated. Benjamin saw that works couldn’t save him. That ascetic disciplines were not the prerequisite for salvation. Right teaching made him learn that eternal life is not something that needs to be renewed every six hours. He was saved and eternally rescued from hell. He was overjoyed. He was free at last.
Benjamin threw all caution out the window. The disciplines of devotion and consecration he’d held through his growing years were discarded. He became careless in his relationship with the opposite sex. After all, he was the righteousness of God in Christ. He wore anything he liked, said anything he liked, posted whatever felt good to him.
Before long, the fellowship president called Benjamin aside.
“Bro Ben, the Lord has asked me to give you a caution. You need to guard against excesses.”
Benjamin didn’t allow the President land. “I stand firm in the liberty I’ve received in Christ, never again to be entangled with the yoke of bondage. God has rescued me from the ignorance of religion and I’m eternally grateful.”
The president tried to restructure his words but Benjamin only heard what he wanted to hear. Because of Ben’s charismatic pull, he was able to command a following. People from similar backgrounds gravitated towards his sarcastic tweets, leaned to his arguments against fellowship guidelines.
He didn’t return home during the holidays so he didn’t know that word was spreading about his new lifestyle until the day his mother called him crying. She said he had brought shame to their family, that he was the reason she had to hang her head in women’s meeting. Benjamin was livid.
“Mummy, can I speak freely? Can I tell you the truth no one has been able to tell you all these years?” He didn’t wait for a response. “You’ve not yet found a church oh. That place you’re in is not a church. It’s at best a social gathering of antisocials and at worst a cult. It’s not my fault that those people are as unreasonable as they are…”
“Mechie onu! Shut that dirty mouth of yours up. Who stood by me when your father died? Who sponsored the education of you and your siblings? Who joined me in fighting back your father’s people when they wanted to strip us of all your father left? Who? Was it not this church? Was it not in this church you learned the Bible first? This same church you now claim is not a cult was where I brought you when you died in your sleep as a child. You came back to life in this church! You ungrateful, forgetful child.”
Benjamin was hurt by his mother’s viciousness. “You’ve forgotten that Daddy would not have died if not because this church forbade his surgery because they claimed medical intervention was of the Devil. The wrong doctrine of that church has done far more harm than good.”
His mother sniffled. “You don’t get it. You just don’t get it. Because of you, Papa, may our father in the Lord live long, has mandated every parent to ensure their children attend the fellowship of this church when they go to the university. Because of you.”
That got Ben’s attention. Because he was reckless with his freedom, some others won’t get the chance to taste freedom. Teenagers would not be exposed to the truth of the gospel because of him.
The point of the story speaks for itself.
The last thing I want to talk about is from the Yoruba proverb that has become the fulcrum of this article. More frequently, the child will need something from the top shelf. The child is usually more dependent on the adult and this metaphor has formed what I’ll call the perceived ideal of learning. The concept that knowledge and wisdom will always flow from the older to the younger. Frankly, I see the merit of this concept. Usually, wisdom will flow from the older. But you see, there are times when you need to get past the bottle neck of the gourd to get what’s inside and at those points the hand of a child will come in handy. *winks Moving past the perceived ideal of learning, we see that in reality the flow of wisdom is not always unidirectional.
For the older folks, sometimes just sometimes there might be something to learn from the younger folks. Elihu might be the youngest in the group but he might have the insight needed. And my people, let’s humble our selves biko. There’s a big tendency to become wise in our eyes in a bid to prove that we know what we’re about. Remember, the child will need a lot from the shelf. We must learn to look past the details our generation doesn’t agree with in the older generation’s methods and actually learn the wisdom that has taken them to the heights they’ve attained. They might call the app wosup till thy kingdom come, they may not understand kitsch, they may take selfies from odd angles but beneath all that, we must be able to discern wisdom and pick the gems we need.
Our differences ought to give us a variety of perspectives, they should not be for contention.