Go with a smile!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Limpeh gar lih gong

Somebody mentioned on a facebook account, “Japanese Occupation was bad”. Then another person, probably an older relative mentioned, “aren’t you glad you weren’t born during grandmother’s time? Be thankful”. Well that is usually the reaction of the older generation, we’ve had it more difficult than you, you’re so lucky, etc etc etc.

Well I had 2 thoughts on first hearing about this. I was envious of my older cousins: they grew up before the Speak Mandarin campaign, so they learnt dialect. I’m envious of people who actually know their own real mother tongues, not the ones imposed on us by the government. They saw some of the old rural Singapore and I didn’t. They saw my grandfather and I didn’t.

But then again, I had other ties to a Singaporean past that the younger generation do not have. For example, I have a grandmother who was a kid during the Japanese Occupation, and she did tell us stories of what life was like. I didn’t have to rely on National Re-Education. So I’m actually luckier than the younger kid.

Second thought is that the older guy doesn’t understand – he thinks that life over the next 50 years is going to be great. I don’t think so. We’re going to be in a big crisis at the middle of the century. However bad WWII is, at least it had a beginning and an ending. At least you could still say “tough times don’t last but tough people do.” When times are really really bad, it's "tough times last and even the toughest people won't".

Global warming is another thing. There’s going to be economic crisis after economic crisis as more and more people chase after fewer and fewer resources. We know that the Great Depression was a great contributing factor to the rise of Hitler, and therefore WWII. We also know that from 1945 until now, there has been no war because economies grow well and life is good. It is actually that simple, no need to have great man theories. Hitler did not cause WWII, because in most other circumstances, he would never have had a chance to get anywhere near the Chancellorship.

What will economic crises all over the world do for us? We already know. And we already know it could be extremely ugly. War, famine, starvation, poverty. All over the world, not just Africa. The guy from the older generation should be happy that he’s lived his entire life in an era in peace and prosperity, having been born after WWII. It is entirely possible that the younger generation are actually the unfortunate ones.

The older relative has also complained a bit about hot being able to understand some of his children. I find this rather unfortunate. I don't think he has a very good imagination and it's rather unfortunate that in Singapore, a failure of the imagination often goes unpunished.

I think, in the end, one of the most important insights of social psychology of all time is the concept of the tribe. People have mental categories, "us" and "them". If you want to get along with people, it is unavoidable that you find some basis on which you can say that you are tribe-mates. It is very important to find some common ground, and I do this with people I otherwise have very little in common with. That older relative was always trying to drawn lines between himself and his children. Always trying to paint himself as being on the opposite side of the line with his kids.

I think that when people share half your DNA with you and you can't make it work, it is a shame. Either you don't have very much self knowledge, or you are consumed with self loathing. To be fair, parents are separated from their children with many barriers. They have different aims in life. Different circumstances. Different peers. Different values. They may have the same experiences in life, but one of them has not gone through them yet, and the other is not able to imagine what it was like before they understood certain things. The blind man cannot see, and the one that can see, cannot imagine what life looks like from the blind man's perspective. So the one that can see is also blind.

Sometimes people are confused. If you ask them, "what were you like hwne you were 15? 20? What would the 15 / 20 year old have done? What did you not like about your own 15 year old self?" Some of them wouldn't even have enough self-knowledge to answer all of that. Some would answer wrongly. Or even worse, some would answer correctly, and forget that their 15 year old self was different from their kids, and that they wouldn't think the same way.

For the last 10-15 years of his life, Johnny Cash made a project, where he covered a lot of songs written by the younger generation. In a way it was a smart marketing move, because it earned him a younger audience. But it worked with Johnny Cash, because he had a lot in common with the younger generation, as he was a rebellious youngster in his youth. Also, his music of sin and redemption was not incompatible with the punk ethos of angry disaffection. He never had to change his style one bit when doing the covers.

Most importantly, it reversed the equation. Even in pop music, even with its emphasis on the youth, people are constantly being told that the 60s were the apex of artistic achievement in pop music, and everything inevitably went downhill after that. All the elders demanded respect from the younger generations. This was an elder, a legend from Elvis's generation, appreciating the work done by the youngsters, and re-interpreting it in his own classic style. If the song was a hit, it conferred classic status on the original, as it did for "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails. Johnny Cash never had a problem getting along with the younger generation.



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