To my younger self… | Sunday Observer

To my younger self…

17 October, 2021

“Think in ways in which you are not following other people’s instructions on how to think”.

Reflecting on simple and happy times of fun and adventure. The 70s, 80s and 90s, eras of carefree and free love. This week Youth Life speaks to writer Madhubahashini Disanayaka Ratnayaka. We go down memory lane and she shares her good memories and experiences with the younger generation.

Q: What do you want to tell your younger self?

A: This is a dicey question – and depends on how old the younger self I am talking to is.

If it is not a child who is still learning to negotiate the world, which she can’t do without help – and is a teenager, I would say to that hesitant, nerdy, girl nervous about displeasing anyone, don’t think that your elders know best. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is not listen to them if you think they are wrong. Have the courage to think differently – read to know that there are different ways of thinking (this I did when I was much older) – and please break rules that are stupid in the first place. This is not to say you should go around breaking them when there is good reason for them to be there, like in schools or society – law for instance; living in harmony with people is something that we should all do when we are a part of a group.

‘To obey all = a good girl’ is an equation, I would like to tell my younger self, that sucks. It’s not about immorality – this question – sometimes the moral choice is to disagree.

Q: Have regrets?

A: This you can figure out from what I said above. I should have been less of a goody-two-shoes. And I wasn’t even pretending. That’s the worst part.

Q: The best times of your life?

A: I would say now. It took me about 40 years to not care about what other people thought. So after 40, things became a bit better. The older you get, the better you become, I think, at realising what is important in life.

Q: What does your generation have that this generation doesn’t?

A: The space to be bored. To live without being constantly connected to the world, which drives the feeling of needing to perform all the time, I think - like being on stage with the spotlight on you constantly. So, I think we had more downtime. We had space to be bored. We had space to be lonely. Those things could do wonders for your soul.

Q: What does this generation have that your generation didn’t have?

A: Sorry if I contradict what I said before but I do mean it, at another level. Social media and WhatsApp and whatever else there is has shown that there was a way that people communicated and kept in touch even though there was a pandemic and people had to isolate themselves physically. These ways of being in touch were especially helpful to young people, though I do not think this is necessarily so in the case of children.

If older youth are not caught in some vicious cycle of narcissism or something, and it is bonding across a network of real friends, I think it helps to keep everyone grounded and aware of what’s going on around them. I grew up in a house that didn’t even have a landline till I had spent many years in school (I was born in 1969). So, I know what it was like to have no idea of what was going on when everyone around me seemed to know. That probably threw me into intensely reading and writing, but didn’t do much in the sense of having a sense of social belonging – which in hindsight seems a good thing, though at that time it hurt. Young people now also have the space and guts to talk about things I would not have dreamt of talking to my elders or peers about. Having access to so many sources of knowledge probably brought that about – also it could be that the world is moving towards open discussion and not silencing some issues that had been taboo earlier. All good, those things.

Q: Your advice to the current generation?

A: Think in ways in which you are not following other people’s instructions on how to think. More than any other generation, this generation is open to cyberspace influencers and so on - or the mass media that is practically telling us how to think, after effectively dumping down content for general consumption.

Critical thinkers or those who question the status quo, are the most urgently needed category of people in our society. Think for yourself. Be alone enough to think for yourself. Read to improve yourself – get yourself a library card and use it. Don’t make the same mistakes our generation did – and we made plenty. Be better.