The first step in mutual understanding, says a college professor, is to realize that others may not know the same things you do. Asked by an elementary school teacher to speak to her class, he talked to them about the war between North and South Korea, which began, he noted for the benefit of the class, on June 25, 1950. He was surprised that the students commented on his remembering the date but they knew nothing about the war. How could they not know about the war? he wondered.
This year new students, born around the year 1995, will be entering his college class. What kind of introduction will he prepare for the course they will begin? If what is said does not register with them, they will be perplexed. Just one generation away from their present reality may be all that is necessary for not understanding what many take for granted. This is not the students fault, he says; it is something that has been true in the past for all generations.
Whether teaching the younger generation as students, as workers, or dealing with them in other capacities, it is necessary to acknowledge, he says, the inevitable gap that exists in Korea between the generations, a feeling of distance that can give rise to distrust. Moreover, the pace of change in Korea has been one of the fastest in the world. Consequently, the older generation sees the younger generation as thoughtless, and the younger sees the older as "old fogies." He admits that he has also spoken to these "old fogies" himself without the openness he felt he should have had. But it was, he admits, his way of feeling comfortable with them.
This kind of relationship--where we lack the desire to communicate and the generation gap only allows us to relate with others as strangers so as not to confront honestly and openly with one another--will it not, he asks, make this society a living hell? A society that has lost its reason and trusts only in strength only adds, he believes, to the ill feelings between classes. In a recent survey among 21 developed countries 53 percent said they would have to take responsibility for their old age. The highest percentage of all the countries. Expectations on a nation's welfare system and trust in the government was one of the lowest of all the countries and he does not see this as a sign of the elders' spirit of independence. Nor do we have the younger generation feeling the burden of taking care of the older generation. There is no feeling of solidarity between the generations.
Openness between the generations is absent, and it is the older generation, he believes, that has to first extend their hand. They have to understand the current of the times, the young people's sensibilities and worries. The older generation needs to show the younger generation that they are interested in having a meaningful encounter with them, and make all the efforts necessary to rid themselves of the obstacles to such an encounter. Kindness shown the younger generation, says the professor, will likely be returned in kind. Without this effort nothing will change.
Pope Francis has used the phrase 'the culture of encounter': "People express themselves fully only when they are not merely tolerated but know they are truly accepted." Opening ourselves to the other should be a mark of all of us. It would do much to change the society we live in.