Resentment and realisation can take many forms. Have the different generations learnt anything from the pandemic? Will we change the way we look at life and our relationships after Covid-19?
It is the first year of university for my nineteen-year-old son. No face-to-face tuition, freshers’ week, parties, or club meetings. Hard to meet new people – his first time away from his home. Yes, it has been tough not getting the typical student experience that is part of the ‘hard sell’ of going to university in the UK where tuition fees alone are around £10,000. But being a so-called ‘first world problem’ (he went to a good school and got his A-levels [state examinations] we have the money to send him to university, he’s able to travel home, etc.), he can survive it. If only that were the whole story.
Realisation and resentment can take many forms. I think, for the younger generations, realisation has led to the awakening of how unfair these times are on them: they are the first generations since World War II not to have the expectation of a better standard of living than the generation before. That bites hard. The pursuit of ever greater profits and shiny new things has cost the planet and our societies dear. Greed is not good. And the younger generation is beginning to realise what the cost has been and continues to be. Climate change is just one example. They are angry. When I speak to younger people, whether it is at university or to my son’s friends, they understand a lot about politics; they are engaged.
This generation does not get its news on the old mainstream TV stations. It is YouTube, Instagram alongside other social media platforms which provide a wide variety of in-depth information. These platforms provide the space for a great deal of content which outlines in a much more digestible style how the older generation has let companies such as Facebook, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Walmart, Volkswagen get away with a lot of destructive behaviour, how the older generation has ruined the planet. Whether it is not paying any or much tax, low wages or falsifying emissions, or using up fossil fuels whilst polluting the entire eco-system. The information is making them angry and asking questions to the older generation.
When I talk to Millennials, they face other issues, but just as significant. The world is very different to that in which their parents started their adulthood. There are no jobs for life any longer. Buying a house or flat is becoming more challenging. The consequences of the financial crises have left many struggling economically. Numerous younger people have had to move back in with their parents. Good pensions are practically non-existent. Without the support of parents and grandparents, this generation would be even worse off.
Then Covid-19 hit the planet like a meteorite. With the epicentre in China, spreading out across the world, country by country, locking down, locking people in, wherever they were.
The reality of Covid is even harder than anything previously mentioned. The cumulative effect on all generations is already being felt. The younger generation, who, according to the information as it became available, have not been hit the hardest by Covid-19, have yet had to remain locked down – for the sake of an older generation that is suffering terribly.
Resentment has built up during this time: locked in with parents, maybe violent partners, children – 24/7; students, like my son, bubbled in Covid-groups in their student accommodation with strangers in new cities they had never visited before. No support groups around them. The many families who have been locked into small, cramped apartments. Curfews. A litany of really, really challenging circumstances.
The younger generation may (justifiably) be angry and resentful at an older generation for the lock-in they have had to suffer for an entire year and more because older people are more susceptible to Covid-19. Not fair. But anger can also lead to a renewed sense of realisation. Grandparents and parents they have lost to the pandemic. Grief that there are no visits, no last words, no hugs, and no funerals. All so vitally important for closure. Realisation that what we did not value has become invaluable during the pandemic: the frontline workers, the hospital staff, volunteers, and others who have kept societies ticking over. Realisation that we must do things differently and that maybe, just maybe, the older generation has some wisdom and knowledge of how to live a life not as a consumer, but as a member of a community where everyone is co-dependent. Maybe, just maybe, that the younger generation has the keys to keeping our planet alive. If we listened to each other and if we heard each other. But we must be open to challenge and change.
Maybe that is one of the lessons of this pandemic: slow down, listen and re-learn the lessons of living on this planet together. There is always a choice to be made. We, as a collective, can choose a better way when we come out of the pandemic. Let us hope we choose that path – across generations. And maybe, just maybe, it is the planet that is asking us: now that I have your attention, can you hear me?