(Is the present generation of youth lacking in idealism? This article examines this question in the light of an evolutionary perspective.)
The “Me” Generation?
We hear quite often elders lamenting that idealism has disappeared from the present generation of youth. Some of the media reports have dubbed the present youth as the “Me” generation, selfish to the core. The angry young man of the earlier generation fighting, shouting, protesting and demonstrating for justice, ideas, ideals, causes is no longer visible or audible.
The decades that spanned the sixties and seventies witnessed many such movements of youthful idealism like for example attraction towards Marxism in India, protest against Vietnam war and the revolt of “flower children” in US, sudden upraising in France. But according to many observes and analysts, the third millennium youth is no longer interested in ideals. He is a focused careerist, bent on self-promotion, seeking for wealth, power, enjoyment, professional and personal advancement, all these exclusively for the self.
Not So Selfish
But how far and to what extent this image of the new age youth is true and valid? Like all popular images, this image of youth has a grain of truth but with shades of exaggeration based on outer appearances. The contemporary youth seems to be not emotionally disturbed by injustice or enthused by ideals. The word “cool” which is very popular among present youth, indicates that too much of emotional involvement is not considered as something good by the new generation. But we cannot say that present generation is entirely lacking in idealism.
The new age youth, especially in the West is sensitive to environmental concerns and very much involved in environmental activism which is an idealistic movement. He is also not lacking in social concerns. Volunteerism, which means giving free service or help to socially constructive tasks is a very popular movement among youth in the West. He is perhaps much more focused on career than the earlier generation. Career, success, wealth and enjoyment are the predominant driving motives of the present generation. But they are legitimate motives for the young. They are part of the evolutionary needs of the young and should not be suppressed or killed with some ascetic idealism.
The Evolutionary Perspective
A growing young soul has to be encouraged to seek for wealth and power, enjoyment achievement and success, knowledge and mastery, because these are the motives which help human soul to progress from a state of subconscious inertia of the collective mass to the dynamic throb of life and self-conscious individuality. And in this process of individualization the growing human consciousness develops certain vital and mental faculties which are essential for an effective dealing with the world and for the integral development of the human potential.
The ego-centrism is a necessary part of this first phase of human evolution. As Sri Aurobindo points out “Ego was the helper; Ego is the bar.” In the first stage of development when the human being is in the process of developing his individuality, ego is a helper in human growth. So the ego-centrism in the present youth is not something to be condemned.
The Limitations of Egoism
But the young person has to understand that the ego-centrism, however helpful it may be at a certain stage, is in its essence a state of smallness, narrowness and pettiness. It is a state in which our creative energies flow within the narrow and closed psychological walls of personal desires and self-interest, without any window or door of access to the universal energies of Nature. According to modern science, energies in a closed system are subject the law of entropy, which means progressive degeneration, decay and disorder. This law applies also to human energies. When we live in a state of total ego-centricity, selfishness and greed, centered exclusively on personal self-interest, our human energies are subject to the law of entropy; it degenerates towards chaos, disorder and disintegration which means in practical terms illness – physical, mental and moral.
All of us seek for creativity, well-being, achievement, happiness and success. The key to all these goals lies in largeness of being and receptivity to universal forces of Nature. As an ancient Indian sage tells his disciple: “there is no happiness in smallness, Narada. Happiness exists only in largeness.” And as we have said earlier ego and selfishness when it is exclusively pursued leads to smallness and shuts off our consciousness from the universal energies
And this leap from the ego-bound individuality of the mind to the free, egoless and universal consciousness of the spirit or self or soul within us is the next step in human evolution. All the present trends in the inner psychological as well as outer economic and social realms indicate we are moving towards a future society which is “global” and towards a consciousness which transcends the ego.
The Utility of Idealism
Here comes the pragmatic importance of idealism. We may define idealism as that way of life dedicated to those values and aims which are in harmony with our higher mental, moral and spiritual nature, not merely in thought and speech but in actions. This higher nature in us is much less selfish and egocentric and much more open to the universal forces than the physical, emotional and sensational being in us.
There are many forms of idealism. It can be selfless service to others or the community nation or the humanity. This service can be in the form generous giving or contribution of labour, money, talent, skill or knowledge without expecting anything in return. Or else it can be a disinterested and selfless pursuit of truth, knowledge or beauty in science, philosophy or art. It can also be a life dedicated to the pursuit of self-knowledge or spiritual development. These are the ideals, which bring a higher quality, meaning and purpose to our life. As Mother points out:
“—do not forget that on the quality of your aim will depend the quality of your life. Your aim should be high and wide, generous, disinterested. This will make your life precious to yourself and to others.”
And ultimately, idealism leads not only to greater quality or meaning but also to greater efficiency and creativity. For, from the point of view of action, the essence of idealistic life is self-giving or subordination of ego to a cause which transcends the ego. And this movement of giving or loss of ego is in harmony with the universal laws of life or Nature. Both the ancient spiritual sciences and modern physical and ecological sciences have found that unity and interdependence is the highest and the most fundamental law of life. In a life-system governed by interdependence, no individual can grow independently or selfishly disregarding or at the expense of others. We can grow only by giving ourselves to the larger whole of life. The more we give the more we have, because the more we give our separate self to the progress and well-being of the larger whole, the more this larger and universal life flows into us enhancing the quality and effectiveness of our individual and collective life.
But there are two conditions to be fulfilled for the act of giving to become an effective instrument of growth. It must be a willing, glad and understanding movement and not a compulsion from an external authority. Secondly it must not result in a suppression of the individuality. We cannot give unless we have something to give. To have we must not only give but also grow in our consciousness and its potentialities. And true growth happens only in freedom. So free growth of the individual is essential for the free growth of the society.
The old idealism emphasized much on sacrifice and suffering. Though these ideals are helpful in times of crisis and urgency like for example during war or foreign invasion or liberation struggle they may not have much motivational force during periods of peace and prosperity, especially for youth. So in such brighter periods, we must emphasize more on a free, joyous and voluntary contribution, service or giving for a larger cause and not on a painful and forced self-immolation. What is the message for youth which comes though our discussions? It is something like this:
“Enjoy life, seek for wealth, power, achievement, success. Seek also for knowledge, not the instant information which comes from the internet but the knowledge of the deeper and universal laws, forces and ideas which govern life. But whatever you have, possess or acquire, atleast give a part of it freely and willingly for the well-being and progress of the larger life of which you are a part or else dedicate some part of your time for the disinterested pursuit of higher ideals like truth, beauty, harmony, self-knowledge. But don’t do it blindly or out of some external ethical compulsion or philanthropic ego of the dogooder. Understand clearly this act of giving or self-dedication is a behaviour which is in harmony with the higher laws of life. And in the long-term, the more you give, more you will have, even though you may not seek for any reward for your giving. As the act of giving becomes more and more free and selfless, you will feel the joy of giving and deep love for the object of giving. When you feel this joy and love you don’t seek or need any reward.”