• June 2nd, 2020

Bridging generational gaps for social cohesion

In recent times we all have noted the explosion of the usage of social media. On average the social media is being used as a tool for good, exchanging information instantaneously. 
Unfortunately we have also noted how the social media has been used as a tool to promote wickedness; such as propagating hate speech or being used to cause harmful divisions in societies. It now appears as if slandering and maligning others with impunity on social media – especially government leaders – has become a new normal. 
I agree with those who say that we cannot and should not accept the misuse of the social media as a new normal. The real question is, however, how to change that. How do we, for example, convince the youth that slandering the elders on social media is not an effective way to address what is wrong in society; that it is not the best way to change the status quo. I believe that the abuse of social media is simply symptomatic of a much bigger problem. 
Therefore we will address the problem only when we fully understand the main causes. The idea about the possibility of regulating the social media is certainly worthy of looking into it. However, I do not believe that regulating social media is an effective solution, except in cases of hate speech or where violence is being promoted. 
With what is happening around us, it appears as if in the course of progressing our socio- economic development agenda over the years, we might have done things that – albeit inadvertently – made the youth to feel alienated. Things that make them feel that we do not have their best interest at heart. That they need to fend for themselves. Whenever I engage the youth, it is my impression that they perceive that there is a lack of access to decision-making structures. They perceive that there is a lack of effective means to impact upon national policy and legislation. They believe that there is a lack of meaningful engagement on youth issues in the chambers of Government. 
The unfortunate thing is that when it comes to perception, what I perceive becomes my truth. And when that happens, what we are then likely to see is what our minds are prepared to comprehend. It is these out-of-place perceptions that often lead to frustrations amongst the youth. They then decide to exercise their freedom of expression in online spaces, but unfortunately in a rather less than productive fashion. 
Some of them start to behave in a crude and sometimes vulgar manner, believing that they will attract our attention. In these online spaces, the polarization between the youth and especially the national leadership is exacerbated by misinformation and ill-founded perceptions. 
As with regard to the view that today’s youth are ill-mannered; that they are undisciplined - I believe that as elders and as parents we need to do a serious self-reflection. As parents we are responsible for the upbringing of our children. 
It is our responsibility to teach them good manners. It is our duty to inculcate in them good values; values of respect and civility. I therefore think that before we act surprised by how our children turned out as bad-mannered youth, we need to ask ourselves a number of questions. 
For example, how did we raise our children? What values did we teach them? I believe that questions such as these will help us to better deal with the youth issue at hand. One fact that is important to keep in mind – while thinking about potential answers to some of the questions - is that children may refuse to listen to their parents, like they seem to be doing now, but they will always imitate their parents. 
I am of the view that our response to the seeming growing inter-generational tension is to deconstruct the elements that are the real causes of the needless anxiety. There are a number of proactive, yet subtle means to address the inter-generational misgivings. These include utilising the social media platforms to disseminate correct information on issues that impact the youth – ranging from social, political and economic discourse. Provided that we will do so on a regular and timely basis. 
In this manner, we will be able to actively combat the misinformation that is so prevalent on social media. Given the virality and the speed with which information travels in the digital domain, it is of vital importance that we ensure that misinformation is not allowed to infect the minds of the youth and fester. If the situation is allowed to become septic, we will have greater difficulties to cure the problem. As we are all aware, there are examples where this has happened and the consequences are simply too ghastly to contemplate. 
It is also important for the youth to take note that constructive engagement is likely to yield better results. To understand that when there is a problem - and I guarantee you that problems will always be there - taking an approach of “an eye for an eye” will not fix it. 
That what may, at times, seem to be a show of disrespect on the part of the youth, can as well just be an attempt to make their point - and that when that happens it is our responsibility to correct and guide. In the end, great things that are expected from us as elders will not come from our comfort zones. 
What is needed is for us to do all we can to build strong inter-generational alliances. As elders, the youth are not our adversaries that need to be defeated. As the youth, the elders are not your antagonists that need to be vanquished. 
Indeed ourselves as youth we rallied behind our leaders and our elders and in so doing we accomplished what we have today. This necessary collaboration between the generations needs to continue in order for us to achieve what needs to be achieved today and tomorrow. 
And for it to continue we need to remove all potential barriers thereby enabling the youth to stand on our shoulders, so that they will be in a better position to assume the leadership with a clear common vision for Namibia. 
Let me conclude by saying that indeed there is no doubt in my mind that the generations need each other. That the objective of a prosperous Namibia is achievable only when we - old and young - face our national challenges in a collaborative manner. 

* Tom Alweendo is Namibia’s Minister of Mines and Energy.

Staff Reporter
2019-07-19 09:48:14 | 10 months ago

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