Friday, 31 July 2009

Writer's Block- The Ways of Our Youth-Part II- By Bushra Hassan

About two years ago, my boss, who has a penchant for delegating, asked me to become an “Intern Supervisor”. Ours is a small-ish office, with few people but lots of interns. It is one of those places where important people like to send their children to polish up their CVs and young adults come to think they can influence change. In less than two years I have supervised over three dozen teenagers. By now, I’ve acquired the talent and wisdom to judge a child before they have even sat upon the chair, prior to the interview. I know them before I meet them. I see them from their CVs, and in the subsequent time they spend in the office, my beliefs are confirmed further.

The subject of youth interests me immensely. I was the youth less than a decade ago, so I’m amazed by the changes the country has undergone in such little time. But more than that, I’m a mother who wants to understand the youth, as my child will be one of them soon and I do not want the generation gap to be too wide. This blog is about my experiences with those interns.

Interns are of different kinds and backgrounds. I may be generalizing a little, and you might think I’m making sweeping statements, but the truth remains, every word is true. Here is how it goes:

a) The “cool” only sit and mingle with the cool. The children of the elite (who come through a top-down way) only befriend children of the elite. The young interns from humble backgrounds stick together.
b) Boys and girls check each other out in the first few minutes. The girls from simpler background lose out sooner, and frankly, care less about the “love in the office”. They are more focused and hungrier to achieve.
c) Many interns are accompanied by either of their parents for the interview, who without realizing it, stifle their child’s personality and/or confidence by being over protective and over imposing. You can see the child’s discomfort, every time. I have personally seen that these kids have the worst time adjusting and finding themselves during their time in the office.
d) There are no apprehensions, whatsoever, about little lies on the reference letter. I ask them to keep a list of the tasks performed, so at the end of their internship period, in their reference letter, I may add them. In all the interns, only two have been honest. The rest copy-paste from others, or just create things to sound impressive. It is a minor thing for them to ask me to extend the duration on the letters. It saddens me, this level of morality, so early in life.
e) Most boys, if not all, smoke. I have yet to meet an intern who does not smoke. They may hide it from me, but they do.
f) Interns are angry. Within six months of graduation, the youth is bitter and angry. They see jobs going to other children, and the cry “nepotism”. There is little acceptance that perhaps, just perhaps, they did not get a job because the other person was indeed better. They all believe they are the best there is, and they deserve all there is. And any decision to the contrary is corruption of the system. Within months, if not weeks, they are convinced that the system is unfair.
g) Most young men believe that they will move abroad and all problems with automatically disappear. Going abroad either through immigration (sponsored by daddy), or through education (whether scholarship or again, by daddy) will help solve all their life’s problems.
h) The kids genuinely believe they know everything. They are less open to new ideas, as their ideas have been formed and carved in stone. It is indeed difficult to convince them and to prove that honesty does exist. That nepotism only gets you so far. They are shown around our office where every one was hired on merit and merit alone, and they toss it aside as being the only office where this is so. This hurts me most.
i) They all enter the office to be an officer. All the interns I’ve had, had to be taught, that photo-copying and spiral binding are important things to learn. That you do not get to delegate to “support staff”, that you do not get tea on your table and the support staff is not supposed to clean after you. The helping yourself and helping others, is greatly replaced by “being helped”. The office support staff is made equivalent of domestic help. And there is little respect for the work they do. Every one is in a hurry to become a big “afsar”
j) There are two kinds of girls I get to supervise every year, who annoy me most. These are the ones who are either too humble, quiet and submissive; or too clever and passive aggressive. Many have both these tendencies simultaneously, like split personalities; sing whichever one suits them most. They start out as poor victims, and within weeks become the exact opposite. There is little balance. I realize now that these girls come from households that suppress their individuality, and this is their coping mechanism.
k) There is little interest in learning how to write. Everything is copy-pasted from the web. There is little credit to individual thought and innovation. Children are afraid of making mistakes, as it would cramp their style. So they don’t take risks, ask questions. It takes me a week so build the confidence in them to make mistakes, ask questions and think of the answers. Sometimes it takes longer. Our education system has dulled their intellectual creativity.
l) Most importantly, they want to change things for the better and they don’t know how. They have no one listening to what their dreams are and what they want to do. They have parents who either don’t care, or care only for them to become engineers or doctors. They are lost and want some one to hold their hand and listen to them, and guide them.

They are lost.

It pities me to see them like this because this is not their fault. There is a fault in the system that lacks quality in both the education and the upbringing. Both the “taleem” and “tarbiyat” have flaws. Most of the observations above are simply a result of inadequate time by the parents. Perhaps I am being too quick to judge, but two years and over forty interns has taught me plenty. It worries me that perhaps too much self awareness is a bad thing, because it leaves little space for growth and change.

It is never too late to change. I have learnt the mistakes I must never make with my child. I have learnt what I need to teach these interns the most. They have become like my children, they are the children of this nation, and our future is in their hands. Perhaps, when you see some one young and confused, you can hold their hand a while. In the meantime, their hands are held in mine.


  1. Bushra your article touches upon a subject that me and a colleague were discussing only this afternoon! Brilliant analysis and only reinforces what we were calling a trend in the current youngsters, of wanting to be bigwigs as soon as they start working, in any capacity! We all have seen the various phases of a career and it is only when you climb the ladder and you appreciate the process it takes to get there, makes you a great manager and a future leader. I hope and wish that we can help guide our youth and hold their hand in seeing the path to greater success. Great article! Keep 'em coming! :)

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  3. awesome!! very inspiring!
    The results and products of 'copy paste' tradition are evident in many "developing" industries of our beloved country. Be it writing, performing and fine cetera.
    The dreams and hopes of becoming famous and successful over night has sucked the creativity out of these young minds, and replaced them with a sense of emptiness...
    In a country where "hired help" is much prevalent, parents have the opportunity to take advantage of the extra time..and encourage these wonderful young minds to rise above the generic...
    where is glory of doing "mehnat"? the struggle that makes us strong and independent!
    Creativity is as essential to the brain as is sugar...but sadly we have let our youth become either idle or worse, copycats...
    This is more evident, if you are in direct contact with them on a daily basis.
    So, the young fingers of today living in harmony with the new age of texting, its time to let go, dust off the old bookshelf, and start flipping.

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  5. oh and yes..its very easy to blame the system, or "outer influence"..but how come none of the positive encouragement ever goes through?
    I taught high school for a while (no i did NOT give up), it was always the teacher who got blamed, in a 50 min class, where 25 min were spent disciplining the can one go about "teaching" during the rest of the class time??
    I agree bushra, anger, frustration, anxiousness, has taken up so much room in these youngsters' lives..I couldn't take their cell phones away from them..nor the ipods...or the video really..the fascination for electronics is to blame :-))
    These things are such a distraction, or should i say, acceptable distractions, which totally take over the learning space. Once you compromise learning, where would you go?