21st Century Reality: Generation Z and the Problem of Worldview Formation
Written by Lengdung Tungchamma on August 30, 2021
Throughout history, what has changed human society has been an interaction of ideas which has mostly been through conversations like this. My hope is that this conversation today will at the very least change someone’s path in life.
Every generation has always had an interpretation of the world. In the age of Socrates, knowledge was everything. In the age of Alexander, conquest was everything. In the days of colonialism, school was everything. Towards the end of colonialism, being a freedom fighter was everything. Each generation had a way it viewed the world. This conviction about the world is often the product of experience. For instance, in the US, there is a generation that defined their lives by the fall of Vietnam. There are others who define their lives by the 9/11 attack. In the same vein, there are those who define their lives by the Presidency of Barrack Obama. For each of these groups, their worldview was defined by events that were large-scale unusual events. Nicholas Taleb Nassim calls these “black swan” events.
Let me focus on Nigeria. In Nigeria, there are events that have shaped various generations. The first is the post-colonial generation, when Nigeria gained Independence there was so much optimism and hope in the air. Everywhere Nigerians were expected to lead Africa into having a major seat at the world table. Everyone felt the vibration for the independence of this largest black nation on earth. That generation saw itself as the emancipators, it was the same generation that led the coups that destroyed the first republic. It was not a coup d’etat led without ideology, no, it flowed from a point of optimism. The coup plotters genuinely believed that they could make a change in Nigeria.
The next generation were those who experienced the Military Era, the cynics of today. The ones who don’t believe Nigeria will ever change. They’ve seen it all. Their skepticism is deeply rooted in reality. Buhari, Babangida, and Abacha messed up Nigeria beyond repair. Within that same generation are those who stood up to the military era. The pro-democracy agitators.
That same generation will lead Nigeria in the 21st Century. From the current Governor of Ekiti to Bola Ahmed Tinubu, they were all agitators of democracy from that era. The generation that matured in the first decade of the 21st Century were all from this period. Within this time, there was another generation that was rising. That generation made their voice known in the last decade, between 2010 and 2020. That was the Arab Spring generation. The #OccupyNigeria generation. They were the same generation that voted Buhari into power. Something must be mentioned here, during the 2015 election, the highest opposition to the Buhari campaign was that generation who matured in the military era. Last year, a certain generation made their voice known. They were the EndSars generation! This generation, your generation, is the Gen Z generation! The majority of the protesters were between the age of 18 and 24.
Generation Z is different in several ways. I will mention three.
- This is the first generation that was literally born on the internet.
- This is the first generation where geography was no longer a barrier.
- This is the first generation where everything became truly wireless.
In one word, I can summarize my thoughts about Generation Z. This is the limitless generation! Within this one word are your hope and your doom. Freedom, technology, and knowledge all come with responsibility.
You grew up with relatively absolute freedom. I know Nigeria is still a mess, but you aren’t sent to prison randomly, disappearance is not common like in the military era. School enrolment is on the increase. Almost everyone you meet at least has primary school education. Almost every house has a telephone. Most of you here are on Facebook and Instagram. You can watch the celebration of Burna Boy when he received the Grammy and you can comment on Cristiano Ronaldo’s Twitter post. The world is happening with you.
You are different. You are unique. You are special. You are limitless. In fact, you’ve been told this already by your parents or someone. This is all true.
But your generation is in danger. That is why you are here. In your quest to fully utilize your liberty, you are forgetting the basics. It was GK Chesterton who said that “Do not pull down a fence unless you know why it was put there”. There are five things that I see that you lack and need to input into your view of the world.
- Truth: You must seek the truth always. Seek facts. Facts do not necessarily mean that’s the truth. Without truth, nothing last lasting can be built.
- The world owes you nothing. Internet, smartphones, ships, clothing accessories, etc were all inventions that were made by the previous generation who didn’t feel entitled. In fact, you owe the world. Your skills, your innovation, your knowledge, and your time. From the Wright Brothers to Steve Jobs, they were the unfortunates of life who contributed to give us the things we enjoy today. They didn’t use their tragedy to stop them from dreaming and making the world better.
- You need to stand on the shoulders of giants. Find mentors. You cannot travel this world alone. The great scientist, Isaac Newton said ” If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”. Find good mentors who will advise you, warn, lead you and inspire you. No generation ever succeeds on its own. It is always built on the successes and failures of the previous generation.
- Think long-term. We are in the age of speed, where delaying to reply to a message for 5 minutes can lead to impatience and break down of a relationship, a network failure of few seconds lead to a complaint, and everything we do is quick and right now. In unmistakable words, we are in the age of Esau. The instant age. You need to intentionally develop the ability to think long-term. Nothing good is built overnight. No successful life was ever successful overnight. All great men and great contributions of this world took time. Long-term thinking will always win. At the end of colonialism, minerals were found in several African countries. Nearly all the countries that found minerals wasted them except for a few like Botswana. Its first President, Seretse Khama was visionary and long-term oriented. He invested the wealth generated from the diamond mines into building infrastructure, education, the economy, and today Botswana is an outlier in a continent where everything seems to be failing.
- Keep growing. Education changes a person. Education empowers you to lead a more meaningful life. The illiterates of the 21st century will be those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn. The only way to make the world better is to understand how it works and to import what works. You cannot make long-lasting change with ignorance.
Frantz Fanon once said, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”. Yours is the generation that can lead Nigeria into greatness. The future of this continent and country is in your hands, you cannot afford to fail.
An Address by Lengdung Tungchamma, at Kaduna State University Campus, Kafanchan Campus, on 28th August 2021.