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The Lost Generations

Popularity 5Viewed 4251 times 2016-3-7 23:47 |Personal category:Life|System category:Others

It is not just my generation, but many of them that are lost, not knowing what we want and who we are. 

I have seen my friends and experienced myself struggle in making the big decisions in marriage and career. I know people who are changing jobs constantly because they don't know what they like to do, and they cannot find a balance between the things they like and the things they can do for a living. I also know people who are stuck in a job that makes them very unhappy, but not knowing what else they can or want to do. I see young people fresh out of college asking their elders eagerly whether they should find a job or continue their education, whether they should stay in the big city, or go back to their hometown, whether they should do something challenging and well-paid, or something safe and comfortable. I witness young couples tying the knot rashly but divorcing just a few months later because of some trivia.  I have also seen many couples in my parents' generation fight every day, have opposite values, cannot stand each other, but still cling to the phantom of a family or marriage, afraid of changing the status quo. 

It can be said that my generation was the first that did not experience the most difficult years of China. Most of us are the only child in the family. We have been raised up with the others telling us what to do, the parents, the school, the teachers, the relatives, the friends, the society, even strangers. We become puppets and live in other people's expectations and notions. We get into someone else's role and mistake it for our own. Gradually we have lost the ability to make our own decisions and choices. When we are thrown onto the crossroads of life, we panic and seek advice from others, and once again, have fallen prey to other people's values and beliefs. When we were little, what we like or want is irrelevant to our life. The paths have been set out for us, and it is easy to just follow the path without questioning it. And we did not have much time to explore our likes and dislikes with all the homework and exams. We stopped asking unanswerable questions of why. Now that we are older, when we feel lost, we bury ourselves or distract ourselves by entertainment and information to avoid thinking at all. So instead of inspiring action, the feeling of listlessness leads to distraction. There is always a new game to play, a new shopping mall to go to, a new movie to watch. There are countless joys in the world and more being created every second, enough to distract us for a lifetime. The thinking muscle, if left unused for a long time due to external reasons, will be voluntarily ignored later. 

There is no better time to emphasize the importance of independent thinking. Without it, we will live forever under the shadow of others, and get lost in the web of untruths and subjective values. We live to become the person that others want us to become, we marry someone that others think matches us, we go do a job that is envied by others. We want to follow our heart, but the heart has not uttered a word in eons and has forgotten how to speak. By building "our life" fervently, we finally left the small flame inside our heart that defines our uniqueness ignored and extinguished. Without independent thinking, we become vulnerable to the outside world, exposed to whatever information or values that happen to bump into us. This is exacerbated by the growth of the internet age. The crowds online can be easily manipulated and instigated, since there are so many ways to shield the truth and appeal to people's emotion rather than reason. 

Different generations may be lost for different reasons. The older generation may be shackled by the collective mindset due to the special historical and political reasons, and they barely had any time or will to look inside their heart. They accept and endure suffering, be it a repetitive and meaningless job or a spouse they never truly loved. My generation escaped from the terrible material shortage. We were given a lot of attention in the family but lonely. We have more opportunities and choices than our parents, but there is not much experience for us to borrow from. The new generation is born with the accessibility of all the information and technology of the new age and fairly abundant material wealth. Things are too easy for them so it has become harder for them to discover the purpose and meaning of life. 

If we want to make a fundamental change in our lives and in the society, we need to cultivate independent thinking from a young age. Essentially, knowing what we want, what kind of people we love, what we want to do for our life, is the first step towards knowing what a society we want to build. Change must come from within. Thinking independently, is not about conforming to the society or being different. It is about seeking the truth, and doing what we think is right, whether it's easy or hard, applauded or denounced. 

(Original work by the author Helen; first published on China Daily blog at 23:50, March 7, 2016)

About Author: Helen, currently a freelance translator in Shanghai. Loves reading and writing and everything related to languages. If you would like to forward or share this blog, please contact the author at

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (6 comments)

Reply Report voice_cd 2016-3-10 10:59
Thanks for sharing your story here, we have highlighted it in our blog homepage.
Reply Report Ted180 2016-3-11 19:56
Is it not better to have the material basis for your survival assured so that you can now consider the finer points of your life? Perhaps loneliness is the price of being an independent individual? Perhaps loneliness is an honorable burden? Perhaps doubt is simply a sign of maturity? Maybe your generation has a special duty to endure all these feelings and work to produce a good life for the next generation? Is not your generation the one with the greatest opportunity (and thus duty!) to make the crucial social and political decisions to ensure a good future? Could you REJOICE instead of bemoan?
Reply Report Ted180 2016-3-13 20:00
There is an interesting book (in English, probably not in Chinese). WEALTH AND POWER by Orville Schell and John Delury, Random House, New York, 2013. It presents accounts of some key Chinese thinkers who have wrestled with the meaning of their lives within a patriotic context.
Reply Report helenriver 2016-3-14 11:10
Ted180: There is an interesting book (in English, probably not in Chinese). WEALTH AND POWER by Orville Schell and John Delury, Random House, New York, 2013.  ...
Thanks for your comment. I will check out that book. :)
Reply Report mbursian 2016-3-14 18:30
Ted180 provides a very valid and truthful comment.  

I am from the "Baby Boomer" generation, born in the early 1950's in the US... the cohorts who epitomized the cultural and social changes of the sixties.  The memorable events that occurred in the US during this period were the Cold War, assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., political unrest, man's first walk on the moon, the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, social experimentation, sexual freedom, drug experimentation, civil rights movement, environmental movement, women's movement, protests and race riots, and Woodstock.  

My generation was characterized in its youth with experimentation, embracing free spirited individualism, and fighting for social causes... we are often associated with the counterculture of the 1960s, the civil rights movement and the feminist cause of the 1970s.  However as we grew older, those characteristics changed to that of less optimism and increased cynicism, and a general distrust of the government.  

Many in my generation were (and still are for the most part) in denial about aging and death, and long-term planning for the future. The financial crisis of 2007-08 hit many of us very hard; many too old to fully recover from financial losses, many lost jobs and too old re-enter in a highly competitive job market.

People often take it for granted that each succeeding generation will be "better off" than the one before it, they would enjoy a better quality of life than the generation preceding it.  Unfortunately, that's just not true anymore.
Reply Report Ted180 2016-3-14 22:18
I'm even OLDER (1942). Having seen considerable change, I am perhaps cautious; but I AM VERY OPTIMISTIC. The advance of communications (like this internet), the way men and women are more equal and friendly, the gradual disappearance of racism and intolerant religion (I see the current Islamism as just a dying-gasp of religion as science comes to dominate), the way the USSR and the US ended the immediate danger of major nuclear war involving tens of thousands of warheads (now we fret about a few score!). If the coming generations stick to rational science, think of a united humanity rather than nationalism - the future will be secure.

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