The question of time and relationships between generations – a reflection

The dialogue sketches out various possible relationships between members of different generations, children and parents. Intergenerational relations can be influenced by the different age and life experiences of parents and their children, their different roles in the family (parent – guardian, child – the guarded), as well as by cultural stereotypes. However, the relationships between parents and children are also dependent on their personal attributes and attitudes. This dialogue is intended to provoke reflection upon what these differing relations are influenced by, e.g. why Suong can behave differently with her parents than Abu-Jamal, why intergenerational conflicts arise, what influence time has upon them, etc.

From historical novels and textbooks, as well as from contemporary life, we know many examples of intergenerational conflicts between children and parents (disputes over the policy of a company, over the royal throne, inheritance, attitudes displayed toward a partner, a step-mother, the way children are brought up, etc.). Intergenerational conflicts exist in all cultures.

  • What is...?

Time: As with all physical magnitudes, people defined time in order to be able to better describe the quantity (duration, weight, strength, radiation, electrical resistance, electrical current) of phenomena around them, in order to measure and compare it. Time serves to measure the imaginary distance between one moment and another. Who selects from which and to which moment time will be measured? We do, because human beings measure the distance between their first and second experience, or moment. The human being perceives that it has experienced something previously (in the past) and later (in the present), and has yet to experience something (on the future). The unit of physical time is 1 second. The latest definition of a second states that it is the time that elapses during 9,192,631,770 (9.192631770 x 109) cycles of the radiation produced by the transition between two levels of the cesium 133 atom (in accordance with ČSN 01 1300). So is it clear to you now, what time is? If not, then don’t feel too bad, since from the origins of history to the present day, scientists have never agreed. People first began measuring time by comparing annual periods with celestial bodies, and later using sundials, sandglasses, candle clocks, spring clocks, pendulum clocks, wind-up clocks, digital clocks and atomic clocks. But what happens if we measure time by our own feeling? From objective, measurable physical magnitudes arises a subjectively measurable social magnitude. Time passes differently in various situations: sometimes a physical five minutes seems like a social ocean of time, and other times it just isn’t enough time. If we arrive at a new place, we sometimes have the feeling that we have already been there before, sometimes that we have spent an entire month there already, and sometimes we feel as though we have never been there before. Some cultures perceive time in a different way than others. Each person and each culture devotes their time to something different, and compliance with meetings agreed upon is important for them in different ways, etc. We say things like, “it felt as though time stood still”, or, “how time flies”. For some people, abiding by and perceiving physical time is a value in itself (“you have to be on time!”), for others not (“it’s no big deal if you arrive late”). If we perceive time as the course of our lives and the sequence of our experiences, it runs constantly from the past to the present.

Past: Everything which took place prior to the instant we are experiencing right now. The past only exists for us when we know of it, have experienced it, or have read about it. Otherwise, we ignore it. If we do not learn about what happened previously, we can’t learn from it. If one generation does not recognise, read, and does not want to hear of the experiences of other generations, it will not learn anything from them.

Present: The infinitely small instant which we experience right now (in historical terms, the current epoch). The experience of the present is perceived in many cultures as being more important than reflecting upon the past or planning for the future.

Future: Everything which we regard as being a phenomenon which has yet to take place. The future exists in our ideas. Whenever the future “happens”, it becomes the present and then immediately the past.

Repetition and development: People often pose the question: if a period of time passes, does something fundamentally change, and if so, what? They wonder whether certain events or experiences are not repeated again and again (except in a different guise), or whether the past could ever repeat itself (“You never step into the same river twice” as Heraclites said). If we believe that with the progress of time, with the process involved in having more and more experiences, we change, we say that we are developing in a certain direction. People often believe that the entire planet, the universe, human society, school, biological types, etc. are developing. But they are frequently recalling the same things, repeating the same mistakes. The whole of life is a combination of phenomena which we perceive as unchanging in time, and phenomena which we perceive as constantly developing. We speak of development even when we follow how a person develops from birth to death, how they grow up, how they are brought up, how they learn, etc. How will we develop in the time we have remaining?

A person’s age: The age of a person is actually the time by which we measure human life. We do not measure it in seconds, but in years lived (after birth, it should be pointed out, since in some cultures the age of life starts being counted prior to the birth of the child). Some cultures tend to celebrate the year of birth, while others remember the anniversary of death.

Generation: A group of people of the same age. This group has lived during the same period of history.

Age pyramid: A graph which illustrates how many men and women live in the society or group in question, according to which generation they belong to (age is shown in the middle of the graph). From the resulting pyramid, we see that in 2003 most people in our population were aged from approximately 20 to 35 and from 45 to 60 years old, both women and men. The shape of this pyramid tells us whether society is aging or not. If so, then there are not enough children being born, and the pyramid has the tendency to expand as it rises. If not, then the pyramid has a strong base and a narrow peak.

Composition of the population in 2003

Cohort: A person is influenced by their life and historical experience. In certain situations, this experience is so fundamental for the life of a person that we use the term ‘cohort’. A cohort is a group of people who have the same experience in the same year (gave birth to children, entered a concentration camp, got a job, etc.). When a mother gave birth in 1960, regardless of her age (to which generation she belongs), her husband could not have remained at home with the child on parental leave; when a mother gives birth today, the father can become a house-husband. The father and mother from two different age cohorts can have completely different experiences linked with the same phenomenon (the birth of a child).

Think about which age cohorts were influenced by important historical events in relation to the residence of national minorities within the territory of the Czech basin.

  • Topic

Differing modes of perception of various generations
Each person develops individually, but at the same time undergoes the same stages of the development of the human organism, from being a foetus, via birth, through adolescence, and becoming a person of a post-productive age. This development does not take place in all people at the same age. Even physically, each person attains various stages of biological development at various ages, and their personality develops at different times. However, we know that along with biological development of the organism, the method by which a person perceives also develops. People at various stages of perceptual development process the input from their surroundings completely differently. Small children often repeat their models, while adolescents reject authority, etc. Small children perceive by means of their emotions (they need a feeling of security), while older people use their reason (they need rational and logical explanations, even at the price of security). Small children tend to follow what is happening and not what is being said. Small children are not self-sufficient, while older ones usually are. And so, when a small child meets an older person, they regard the same facts completely differently. For the child, the experience of the moment may be important (a nice ice-cream), while for the adult, concern for the future welfare of the home (a work meeting) takes precedence. Adults have power over dependent children (they provide them with food, support them, bring them up and influence them by means of their conduct). At each stage, the developing child and the adult need to take a different approach.

The impact of life and historical experience
Each person in life is influenced by their experiences. However, each grows up in a more or less different environment than other people (a different upbringing, different landscape, different legislative framework, etc.). Certain groups of people go through a special life experience. Older and younger generations do not only have a different outlook on the world because of their different means of perception (psychological), but also because of different historical experiences which they have (different environment, political changes, power formations in the country, etc.). People aged between 15 and 25 undergo a fundamental transformation. In this period of time, they have to reach fundamental life decisions regarding their studies, work and life partner. For this reason, the historical circumstances which impact upon their decisions play a large role and mould this formative life experience.

Why will Suong, who was born in the CR, have a different life experience than her parents, who came to the CR from Vietnam? In what respect?

This term relates to the attainment of a certain level of life experience (not only the acquisition of information, knowledge, or practical skills). People attain wisdom in various stages of their development, and some never attain it at all. A wise person is traditionally considered to be one who has a wealth of experience, gets on with people as well as with themselves, and can resolve life problems and situations. Wisdom is not a quality restricted to old or young people, even though it is often expected from older people.

Relations between the generations
Given that people of various generations grow up under different conditions, naturally different life experiences arise between generations to a certain extent, which gives rise to different opinions, attitudes, norms and values. Just as there exist differences between cultures, so there exist differences between generations, especially because people of various generations are operating within a different phase of their lifecycle – in which they perceive the world differently – but also because they have experience of a different epoch and have created different stereotypes, etc. There can often be misunderstandings and conflicts between them. These conflicts can also relate to the different level of power which one generation has over the other (children are dependent on their parents, etc). If we think about what is said of various generations in the CR, what is said of the older generations (from 45 upwards) that is positive or negative? What is said that is positive about younger generations, and what negative? People say of older people that they have a lot of life experience, they are professionals in their sphere, they can resolve problems, they should listen but they are not able to adapt, and that they are often ill. About young people, it is often said that they do not have sufficient experience, that they are not firm but also that they are adaptable, inclined toward new solutions, and that they do not listen. However, without knowledge of specific individuals, we can say nothing which corresponds more with the facts. Various things are said in various cultures about various generations.

In families and schools in the CR, it often happens that the older people (parents, teachers) have greater life experience, but a smaller amount of new modern information, and so young people are frequently ahead of their elders in areas like the Internet, but only in a certain direction. In this rapidly evolving period of human history, parents and teachers attempt to offer their children and pupils not only information, but their transformed life experience, which forms the know-how of the personal and social life of a child. However, if a parent or teacher offers only their own personal experience, this may not correspond to the reality which the specific child is experiencing right now. On the basis of their experiences from society, youth clubs or school, the child will not be able to understand the ideas offered them by parents and teachers. If two generations are to reach a mutual understanding, the older must submit its experience in such a way that the younger is able to avail itself of it. If two generations are to have respect for one another, the younger generation has to take account of the older and listen to it. In certain cultures, it is completely common for children, parents and grandparents to live together and so to be in a position to offer their life experience in practice, to communicate together more intensively, to recognise the significance of the existence of the other, to live naturally together, and to resolve conflicts which arise between them in situ. On the other hand, in other cultures older and younger generations do not avail themselves of personal contact very much, and the provision of experience does not take place by means of generation but by means of impersonal media (the Internet, television, etc.).

Why might it be that Suong listens to her parents? Why do Pavla and Andrea have a different opinion in the absence of their father?

The requirements for change and generations
With the passing of time, each of us changes, both physically and psychologically, and acquires new life experience. In certain situations, younger people do not like accommodating themselves to traditional experiences, and older people are reluctant to accept the new. In order for a person to change themselves, it is necessary that they be convinced of the appropriateness of this change, that they undergo a new life experience which leads them to this change. What happens when a person arrives in the environment of a foreign country? Do they change? Do they remain the same? The environment of a foreign culture might appear incomprehensive to them, the experience which they acquire there does not have to be similar to that which they acquired in their home country, in the social environment they know. In order for them to adapt to the new society they need time, time to acquire new experience in the new country and to process this experience and adapt to it. For instance, have you ever attempted to persuade your grandmother or grandfather to regard something differently, more in line with the young generation? Did you manage to change their minds? How difficult was it? When giving consideration to any change, it is very important to think about time, the time which is necessary for the change, the time it takes before a person can really change, adapt, find new ways of resolving things. Experts these days say that in terms of a change as fundamental as moving from a well-known domestic environment to a foreign one, a period of two to three generations is necessary. When we say of someone that they are inadaptable, have we ever thought about how long they have been living in the new environment? Is it really a period of two to three generations they have had to adapt? Have you ever had the experience of having to adapt to a completely new environment? How long did it take you? Was it easy? How? Difficult? How?

Development of the civilisation of a certain culture
Just as a person acquires life experience with the passing of time, so a certain ethnicity or culture will acquire its civilisation, let us say the stage of development of their culture. And just as each person develops differently (some pursue university studies, some fail to complete their courses, some want to start a family, for some it is not easy to maintain permanent social links), so each culture develops in a different way (some still lack written language and transmit their experience verbally in the form of song and rhyme, some have a written language and a rich architectural inheritance, etc.). However, it is important to realise that both types of people live alongside each other, just as both types of cultures exist in the same period of time. At present, people live on various levels of personal development, and culture on various levels of civilisation. Some people are always seeking the answer to the question of which of these two (the university graduate without a family or the person without a secondary school education with a family) is superior. Historical experience and the experience of travellers often demonstrates, however, that both such people, both such cultures, bring benefits to life and have a role to play.

Can you imagine how? For instance, what are the positive and negative aspects of the modernisation of technology characteristic of North America, Japan, Central and Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia have? What positive and negative aspects does the life of a society living in nature without technology and the consumption of energy have?

  • Stories and examples

Statements and their motives
Read the following statements:
- “Yeah, today’s young generation knows far more about sex than we did! If only we knew what you do.”
- “The young generation behaves so inconsiderably, they just kiss each other and don’t listen to a word we say!”
Think about who made these statements and why. Can we say whether they are right and if so, how? Try to offer explanations using the knowledge you have acquired in the previous text.

Population estimates in the Czech Republic
The question of generation and age is at present taken very seriously, especially by politicians. Read the following text and think about whether and why the aging population may or may not be problematic in the future.
Concerns over the aging population which governments periodically exploit as part of their programmes of assistance for the family are exaggerated. If the average life expectancy is constantly increasing, an aging population is completely natural. We take increases of average life expectancy as being positive. So why do we bemoan an aging population when it is the mirror image of precisely this?
If medical healthcare improves and lifestyles increase, there is no need to be concerned about an aging population. The relative number of people falling within the age group of 65 and over is on the rise. The fact of an aging population is neither positive nor negative. Information to the effect that the arithmetic average age of the population these days is 37 in the case of men and 40 in the case of women, as opposed to 27 and 29 respectively in 1900, can scarcely surprise anyone. Of course, we have the highest average age in history thus far, since people live longer than one or two hundred years ago. According to the material, the proportion of people over 65 has risen from 8% in 1950 to almost 14% in 2001. The ratio of children in the population has fallen over the last fifty years, from 24% to 16¬%, while the proportion of people aged between 35 and 64 has remained almost unchanged. What is there which is unnatural or creepy about this development? Nothing.


On average, citizens of the Czech Republic live to an older age and have fewer children than in the past. As a result of this, there is a change in the age structure of the population taking place, and a demographic aging process is underway. The number of older people in the Czech Republic is gradually increasing. In 2004, people older than 65 comprised 14% of the country’s population. According to figures from the Czech Statistical Office, in 2030 this figure is set to be 22.8%, and in the year 2050 31.3% of the population of the CR will be older than 65, i.e. about 3 million people. The number of people aged 85 and over should increase by 2050 to roughly half a million (in 2004, there were 93,516 of them).

The attempt being made by individual politicians to adapt to the demographic development has led to the acceptance of the National Programme for the Preparation for Aging for the period 2003 to 2007, which formulates measures in the sphere of employment, healthcare, social security, accommodation, education, social services, etc. The aim is to create the conditions for the participation of older people in the social and economic development of the Czech Republic, and the conditions for an independent and quality life in old age. Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs of the CR


  • Sources


Becker, H. (1997). De toekomst van de Verlorene Generatie. Amsterdam. Kalibová, K. e.a. (ed.)(1993). Demografie (nejen) pro demography. Praha: Slon,

Langmeier, J., Krejčířová, D. (1998). Vývojová psychologie. Praha: Grada.

Sokol, J. (1994). Malá filozofie člověka. Praha: Karolinum.


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