Sunday, September 22, 2013

[Open Circle]Generation-Y: What Are We All About?


Assalamualaikum, may Peace and Allah swt’s Blessings be Upon You.

Young Muslims Project (YMP) conducts bi-weekly open circles where we spontaneously discuss pertinent issues that relate to our daily lives, and how we young Muslims can, should, and have been grappling with them. We draw from literature, our favorite texts, quotes, talks and lectures from local and international scholars, motivational speakers, personalities and comedians. We keep our discussions alive, fresh, critical, and kicking, with minimal restrictions or subscription to particular schools of thought, but are also mindful to not decide on Fiqh and Jurisprudence issues without consultation. It is our aspiration that these discussions will benefit the members and the readers of this humble site of ours, in our efforts to provide a platform for discourse and sharing of ideas, in the hope of a better ummah in sha Allah.

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Generation-Y, or Gen-Y, has lately been a very popular term coined by business schools, HR practitioners and marketing industry to refer to the demographic cohort following generation-X. Perhaps initially used for commercial purposes, it has now evolved to colloquially refer to “youngsters these days”. There has been no clear definition to truly ascertain who Gen-Ys are, but the rule of thumb is that Gen-Y refers to those born between 1980 and early 2000.

This open circle was prompted by an article about Lucy, shared by one of our members. Our discussion first attempted to define the characteristics of Gen-Y, using our own experiences and observations. While we were able to draw many opinions as to what should be defined as Gen-Y, we also gathered some ideas of the circumstantial aspects of being in our 20s and early 30s in the 21st Century, that brought about these characteristics.

One of the major characteristics that define Gen-Y arising from our discussions is instability. This characteristic refers to the dynamism, or a constant state of moving from one condition to the other. This also means that Gen-Ys tend to be hungry and crave for challenge, often unlikely to patiently stay through in each endeavor, thereby under-appreciating experience and wisdom that typically comes about with permanence and stability.

How did this characteristic come about? The discussion has proposed that instability had arisen from upbringing and exposure from parents, teachers, and familial surroundings. While previous generations work within class or status-based boundaries- or “in their place”- majority of Gen-Y has had the benefit of confidence and morale boost, arising from precedence, inspirational successful figures from other parts of the world, “rags to riches” stories, and most commonly, supportive parents who have done the hard work of providing and sustenance, constantly pushing their children to make “more” of themselves.

This brings us to a second characteristic of Gen-Ys, which is the financial ability to not to have to think about “bread and butter” issues. While Gen-X and Baby Boomers - who were in their 20’s and 30’s in the 80’s and the 90’s - are driven by success defined in an economic sense, Gen-Ys in general seem to thrive on bigger ideals, such as activism, making a change, and defining success beyond monetary terms. Perhaps this is partly because they generally believe they have their parents and families to fall back to, or perhaps it is also because they simply have never imagined a situation where their basic physical needs for living could be compromised. Does this necessarily mean that those left with no choice but to be preoccupied with “bread and butter” issues, are not Gen-Y? This is still up for discussion.

Another distinct characterization of Gen-Ys still has to do with instability, in that they are “Jack of All Trades”. As we know, “Jacks of All Trades” are typically “Masters of None”, and this has largely to do with being easily satiated with high-level knowledge. The discussion considered whether it is true that Gen-Ys are satisfied with instant gratification; that is knowing only a bit of everything, being able to discuss about things on the surface level, using anecdotes, quotes, tweets, Facebook statuses, and micro blogs as sources of references. There is a blur now between information and knowledge. At the same time, there is less and less appreciation for hierarchy and authority in knowledge. While some positive ideals today suggest that no authority should limit rights to learning and democratization of knowledge and its appreciation, some regard to authority are needed to keep the learner at least equipped with the fundamental philosophy and tenets of the knowledge itself. Of course, we consider this still up for discussion.

While social media tools are extremely helpful in intriguing Gen-Ys and to pique interest, we think Gen-Ys should take the time to follow through a body of knowledge, study in depth, and appreciate knowledge in the deeper sense. Not only does this build credibility and expertise for the Gen-Y individual him or herself, it also contributes to the expounding and expansion of ideas and the knowledge (‘ilm) itself; undoubtedly, something that can contribute to the world in sha Allah.

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While they may sound discouraging, the characteristics of Gen-Ys stipulated above can actually be capitalized on and converted into positive outcomes. Our discussion thus progressed to solutions. As predominantly Gen-Ys ourselves, we think about ways for us to endogenously and proactively think and act, to better place ourselves in the era of the 21st century.

One of the considerations that were suggested during the discussion was going back to appreciating what Asian and Islamic cultures have to offer. Western values and ideals have very much shaped the idea of progress that Gen-Ys on this side of the world have today. While some are perfectly positive, and can be emulated, we considered whether or not we have embraced these values prematurely.

The west saw incredible movements for emancipation from traditional values earlier on in the mid 20th century, and it has built on a progressive path accompanied and complemented by political, governmental, legal and social ecosystem to support them. But for Gen-Ys in the east to automatically subscribe to them in a haphazard manner, derived from bits and pieces picked from the Internet, we risk diluting these ideals in their true forms as well as sacrificing the beautiful values that the Islamic culture would propose. It is true that the older generations have now no choice but to recognize Gen-Ys as a formidable force to reckon with and that some of their “old ways” have got to go. However, it is more productive if Gen-Ys were to propose change and ideals that are concrete, beneficial and ultimately applicable in bettering our lives and the community at large.

The discussion also proposed that Gen-Ys be careful not to have the same expectations of the Gen-X on our next generation. The circumstances, challenges and hopes of our offspring and the next generation will not be the same as ours, just as ours are not the same as those of our parents. Seek to recognize and appreciate these differences, just as we hope to be recognized and appreciated today.

Being Gen-Y in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia also calls for us to achieve greater empathy. Love for the human race and humanity in general should be genuine, refreshed and revisited. That is what Islam propogates after all. Multiculturalism is undeniable. If Gen-Y happens to have inherited a lack of mutual understanding that transcends ethnicity, class, and religious differences from our parents or the previous generations, the goal should be to furnish that lack, rather than to perpetuate the gap in the name of relevance or superiority. Inter-religio-ethnic understanding should be made a reality, not left merely as an ideal, and there is no better generation to undertake this challenge, other than the zealous and exuberant Gen-Ys that we are. In fact, true love for fellow human beings can be the seeds for honest and effective da’wah, In sha Allah.

In all the issues we face with education and the quality of the teachers educating our future generations, Gen-Ys should seek to be teachers ourselves, for our own children. Be that teacher you want for your child, as it is no longer sufficient to educate in a one-directional manner. We Gen-Y ourselves would know better ;)

Finally, ACT. Just act. Your ideals and hopes are those that drive you and shape this vibrant, beautiful, searching, zealous, productive, aspirational Generation-Y that you are a part of.

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