Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Korean Generation Gap

In the Catholic Peace Weekly Column, the writer recalls Chaucer's The Canterbury Tale and the pilgrims on their long trip relieving their weariness retelling interesting stories from life. An old man, a steward, when his turn arrives begins talking but what he says is too much like a sermon and was told so by one of the members. He mentioned the ‘Four live coals the elders have: Boasting, anger, greed and telling lies. They last until death.

This scene shows the disconnect between the elderly and younger generations of another society and age but true today also in Korea. More so today since society has evolved into a horizontal democracy.The elderly are not recognized for their age, wrinkles, and experience. Society doesn't need the old. When ethical disputes arise in a small community, the elderly do not act as arbiters, this is done by vote or opinion polls.

The elderly didn't anticipate change nor prepare for it—yesterday, poverty, today material prosperity but an ambiguous future. Korea has become an aging society in 2017, (14% over 65).  If you go to a local park, you can feel the depressing reality of an unprepared aged society.

Fortunate if you do not hear the word old fogey, (has been) when the elderly try to convey the wisdom of life that has been learned from trial and error. When news that an elderly man acted strangely in a  public place such as a subway, not infrequently, you hear hateful language about the person. 

Young people have something to say. Pre-modern patriarchal society is no longer the way society is seen. The abundance created by the older generation is criticized for its inequality in favoring those who have. The young often say it is difficult to find an adult who they respect. Not difficult to see why the steward's words have some truth but the young don't want to understand. Instead, they want the elderly to ask why they have lost their authority and find it difficult to adapt to the new age.

The generation gap is not only harmful in the home but also in society. The elderly with pain and patience have accumulated wisdom which is a precious social asset. Elders are responsible for transferring the assets of the past, and the young have an obligation to inherit it. The younger generation condemns "old fashioned" too easily. But it should not be forgotten that the old way was a structure that held up home and nation until the present.

In October, youths at the Bishops' Synod, listened to the white-haired bishops. Bishops also listened to the courageous remarks of young people. A layman in Samoa in the South Pacific likened this view to an old sage and a young man in a canoe. "The old sage knows how to read the constellations and sail the sea, and the young man has the strength needed  to go forward."

A healthy society is where seniors dream and their sons and daughters live as prophets (Acts of the Apostles 2:17).