THE time has come for us to review, and possibly revamp, how we look at social structures, particularly in comprehending the needs and goals of each generation.
Bringing together Malaysians as one goes beyond racial and religious lines, as younger groups, including Gen Y and millennials, feel compelled to contribute towards nation-building yet are often sidelined by experienced seniors.
Optimising the potential of our society is the main way forward, as we seek to move away from a consumer-driven culture and progress into an innovation-lead mindset.
“OK Boomer”, a disparaging reference to members of the Baby Boomer generation used by millennials, has been an infamous trending phrase for the past few weeks, and it paints a significantly accurate picture of the younger generation’s dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs, and Malaysia is certainly not an exception.
From a general standpoint, national wealth is seen to be accumulated among the entitled few, and the distribution does not favour the younger generation. This situation is apparent in income levels that have an overall stagnance in the past 20 years.
In the employment sector, most employers tend to prefer seniors for higher positions as similar personalities prevail – and this adversely impacts innovation, quality and productivity in our quest to become a truly modern economy.
Beyond political and employment avenues, we should explore alternative routes to drive down differences and promote intergenerational equity as well as harmony.
How often do we see seniors happily mingling with young adults and teenagers, having informal exchanges on issues? Instead, the future leaders of our society are often labelled, scrutinised and undermined by seniors.
On the flip side, the barriers and perceived disparity are treated with discomfort by youths who cannot pinpoint common interests and similarities with older people despite having comparable socioeconomic needs.
While social media channels have been touted as a “community saver” in the way the platforms can connect people, a dynamic physical shift is still the most effective way forward.
The Eastern values of respect and tolerance for elders are relevant but the internalisation of those values must come naturally and not be forced, as they are nowadays.
Community-based, cause-driven initiatives could be the best measures to resolve cross-generational tensions. Cross-cutting ideas and discussions encompassing representatives from diverse age groups may lead to a paradigm shift, with seniority being treated as a secondary factor.
Technology emerges as a key cog in any nation-building exercise, and it can also be utilised to spur socioeconomic development and transcend societal loopholes.
Lifelong learning and innovation-based concepts – among the major components disseminated to the younger generation – should be applied by seniors as well. The creation of a vibrant, cooperative ecosystem that includes multiple stakeholders provides a sustainable environment for growth and additional room for interaction between groups.
At the same time, the interests of the elder groups must be supported as well in the long run. Getting youths and teenagers to become fascinated with craftsmanship and heritage, for instance, could be integrated into community-oriented programmes and subsequently developed into long-running projects via close collaboration among community members.
At a time when intergenerational similarities lie in smartphone brands and political attitudes, Malaysia needs to devise a new approach or upgrade available mechanisms to ensure a sense of national identity that can cut across backgrounds and ages for the betterment of the country.
With greater access to healthcare and longer life expectancy rates, plus the fact that families are resorting to smaller household sizes due to increased costs, the societal distribution of Malaysians will be skewed towards the elderly group within the next 20 to 30 years.
Numerous visions, policies and strategic plans have been initiated by the Malaysian government, past and present, to reinvigorate public ownership of the nation. Yet the short-term successes are mostly overshadowed by long-term structural misdirection – leading to youth-led displeasure at present.
We can blame the political leadership and failed policies for any shortcomings but it is unfair to let them shoulder all responsibility if we ourselves do not play our role as committed and patriotic Malaysians.
Ultimately, it comes down to our ability to connect with one another across generations to boost socio- economic stability and livelihoods. Eventually, this will help to pave the way for the development of the next wave of leaders – hopefully devoid of paranoia and full of optimism in championing the Malaysian dream.
Senior Research Officer, Merdeka Center for