你应该懂得些世故再老呀 – Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise – English

  
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I read a scholar’s Weibo (Chinese  Microblog) which says “when my generation was young in the 1980s, we managed to read and compose poems, travel and organize book clubs without a place of our own. ” the author concludes by asking, “What’s wrong with our young people today?” I’ve come across such statements a lot, and find them arguable.

Although traveling though time is a popular theme in recent TV soap operas, this does not justify using the past to criticize the present. In Bernard Werber’s book The Tree of Possibilities (Chinese version translated by Dai Lu, published by China City Press in August 2009), there is a piece called “Vacances à Montfaucon “about traveling back to the era of Louis XIV.  It is a period best known for its refined taste and delicacy. There are writers such as Molière, and La Fontaine, beautifully carved walls, magnificent sculptures, and things like “I still need to learn the arts to please the ladies, it is an important etiquette at the court of France”. However, when the narrator finally arrives in the Paris of that time, it turns out to be a smelly city without a sewage system; patients are treated by blood-letting; and the character nearly get killed by a sorcerer. People who frequently criticize the present with experiences of the past should book a time-travel trip, getting back to the romantic and chaotic time of the Wei and Jin Dynasties; but they should also bear in mind that taking the popular drug of the time, Wushisan, may leave your skin covered in rashes and sores.

Further to making comments, one should be prudent when trying to use their own past history as a template for others. Each generation has their own happiness and sorrow, things that they are fed up with, or proud of. Knowing how things worked “in our times” probably will not be very useful for those living now.  Getting older does not automatically make one wiser. The wise ones make reasonable decisions, think critically, and make judgements according to the circumstances. As a middle-aged person, I would like to admit that I am out of fashion, and thus stay out of the way of next generations instead of forcing them to follow on my footsteps. We may not understand or agree with the young people, but shouldn’t be so ready to question them. We should ask ourselves first, “What about my generation? Any legacy to be inherited from us?”

I have read dozens of reports about how old people claimed to be harmed or injured by young people in traffic accidants so as to get compensations. To be frank, I find the older generation more questionable compared with the younger generation.  Let us reconsider the days when the older ones grew up, and the education they received. Those were the days when the essence of traditions in China were reformatted, but not yet reinstalled. Now they are trying to cope with the twisted values of the new era with lingering fashions from the past.  They were drowned in political campaigns and the cultural revolution in their youth, then thrown in the transition period of “only money matters”. What do they care about? And what do the young people care about? To some degree, I think the younger ones are more compassionate, caring, and more liberal in terms of values.

Surely, most of the time, the past is tragic memories for the old. But it should not be an excuse to keep complaining. Every generation has their difficulties. People should step back to enjoy life when they grow old. It is not appropriate to force others to suffer the same pain just to make us feel better or to make others to fulfil our unaccomplished dreams. Some old people don’t realize this. Thus they try to change the trajectories of the young people, based on their past experiences. This is not good coaching. Although young people can do nothing about that, but only hold back their real thoughts. It is not the most harmonious scene.

I am not saying we should not respect the seniors, which is necessary. Also, I am not trying to be over generalizing. There are good and bad people both among the old and among the young. When I was learning quantitative analysis, while explaining the belt curve, my teacher used to emphasize that comparisons should be made within the same group first to calculate the standard deviation, then can you compare items from different groups.  Many old people are keen to criticize the behaviour of the young people, because of opportunities they’ve missed. However, each generation has their own burdens, different environments and unique strengths. Life can not be copied and pasted because as time goes by, the control key is not functioning any more.

I reckon most old people are not trying to be bossy just because of their age. But a handful of individuals in the group are just enough to ruin the whole party. In the US, people are not happy to be regarded old. Because in their culture, young people are encouraged to be set free. Others are not supposed to intervene, not even in the name of rescue. In Chinese society, on the contrary, there are more opinions from the old people, making it hard for the young ones to explore and venture. We often say, old people are schooled on how things work in life. But for me, people should understand first where they stand before knowing how things work. There is an interesting line from the Fool in King Lear: “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”

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About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]