Youth’s Future and the Dialogue between Generations

24 October 2012 | | English


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Andreu Bassols. Director-General of the European Institute of the Mediterranean

Generations and Regeneration

Generations are a modern theme in sociology but they have always existed. We all have parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great grandparents. Ortega y Gasset popularised them from philosophy following the line initiated by August Comte some years earlier. From the start of the so-called Christian era and calculating four generations per century, there have only been 80 generations between us and the contemporaries of Christ and his disciples. Even fewer generations, around 55, separate us from the beginning of the Muslim calendar, the Hegira. Hebrews are the most ancient, having reached the year 5773, which would make 231 generations. This is nothing compared with the generations of other animals that reproduce at a great speed with all the implications this entails from the point of view of adapting to the environment.

What we human beings cannot do with genetic changes we do with learning. Margaret Mead, the great American anthropologist, argued that in conservative and relatively unchanging societies, parents teach their children. These societies do not change very much and one generation after another transmits basically the same thing. In contrast, in societies under transformation, contemporaries teach each other and learn from their peers, but they learn little from their predecessors who are no longer aware of recent evolutions and adaptations. Margaret Mead, however, also stated that, from time to time, there are societies that change so quickly that the children teach new things to their parents. This is what happens to me and to my generation with computers, Internet and mobile phones, which we still do not understand completely despite the patient lessons of our generational heirs.

Everybody says that the Arab revolutions have had a technological component. Social networks, tweets and photos sent all over the world by phone spread through the revolutionary movements, from Tunisia to Yemen. A majority of young men and women, of boys and girls, aspire to have a little more dignified and fairer future than their parents.

The Mediterranean, a sea of ancient traditions, cradle of civilisations, philosophies and religions, of innovative political thought from Plato to Ibn Khaldun or Machiavelli, has gone through a very convulsive 2011 and 2012. On the one hand, the Arab revolutions and, on the other, the movements of dissatisfaction, the “indignants”. Both of them led by young people and antagonized by more experienced, sceptical and conservative generations… the ones that hold the power.

This year, the contest “A Sea of Words” sought to stimulate the imagination of young writers on the issue of generations. The reason is quite simple: we thought that it would be worthwhile for the current generation of youths who have made or experienced a revolution to reflect, through literary fiction, on the meaning of what is learnt and un-learnt, what is preserved and what is rejected, between generation and generation, between parents and children. Sons and daughters have made the revolution in Egypt and in Tunisia, have led an uprising in Libya, and are participating in a war between brothers in Syria. Intergenerational relations are very important to understand why a determined generation accepts submission to a dictatorship while another generation goes into the street and the square calling for freedom and justice. The parents are conservative in nature. Their children want to open up new prospects. Pyromaniacs and firemen, it is a question of years, of generation, of being a grandfather or a granddaughter, a mother or a son. We wanted to know what the young writers thought although Jorge Luis Borges used to say that writers are by nature conservative because they work with words and words are the clearest expression of the unchanged character of tradition and often centenary codes, which are repeated with a few modifications. We are not sure that the Argentinean writer is right but it is true that the words written for our contest have helped us to understand how the young authors from Europe and the Mediterranean think and how they see relations with their ancestors.

The IEMed has always sought to be a bridge between the two sides of the Mediterranean. With this year’s “A Sea of Words” we have aspired to build a modest literary bridge between the generations. It has been an interesting experience. We received almost 300 short stories from 34 countries and the jury selected 14, all of them of remarkable quality. They are now at your disposal in this collection, a virtual collection which does not occupy any space but that we hope will occupy a place in your thoughts and in your reflections about the future of generations and the generations of the future.

The Mediterranean world has started a new era. A regeneration is underway. A new generation of citizens, without giving up traditions and what they have learnt from their parents, want to be the protagonists of a new future. Literary fiction helps us to understand the aspirations, concerns and hopes of these new generations that now are called “emerging” but which are, quite often, “divergent”. Happy reading.