It seems a very strange thing that of all the forms of life on this planet, the human being…..the most intelligent, the most powerful, the most capable of controlling its environment and so of relative independence…..is also the form of life which has the longest period of physical dependence and immaturity. No other creature has so evident and so prolonged a need for its parents; on no other creature is the lesson of family and of relationship so deeply impressed by its own necessities.
Is that why we rebel? For rebellion against parents and family seems an inevitable part of our experience. The generation gap was not invented in modern times; the Old Testament, paradigm of patriarchal tradition, is full of stories of disobedient sons and quarreling brothers. Is that a part of the lesson, perhaps? Must we first resist our human bonds in order to learn to accept them; run away from home so as to come back, like the prodigal, knowing ourselves better?
For certainly we can only begin to become aware of our own identity in terms of where it belongs and its place in the whole of what surrounds us. We know nothing, in fact, and can learn nothing, except by means of contact and comparison with other things and other people. The family is only the beginning of our education in rubbing elbows with the world, but as such it forms the basis for all our future participations.
If we refuse, and continue to refuse, this first training in relationships, we have little prospect of success with other, even more difficult ones; and however much we may at times resent our human interconnectedness, we must also admit that most if not all of the joy, color and warmth of our lives comes through contact with other people.
Beyond the family we were born into, based on the family, come all the other exchanges with friends and lovers, teachers, masters, dependents, husband and wife, son and daughter. And beyond all these is all of life in all its forms and manifestations, for what is there that is not in relation with something else? And below them, within them, conditioning them all, taught and formed by them all, is the relation with oneself, and the possible return to one’s own deepest sources.
All this, if we obey the rules. But if we were not the inventors of the generation gap, we take it and its accompanying and continuing tantrums as seriously as if we were. We indulge its kicking against the pricks by yielding to all sorts of pretenses that things are not the way they are. We pretend that there are no differences between the sexes except a small biological one (vive la petite difference), call our parents by their first names to make them the same age as ourselves, and encourage every individual (but if we are all as alike as peas in a pod, what is an individual?) to do his own thing. We will have equality, even if our brand of it eliminates all real liberty and all real fraternity. But appeasement, we should have learned, brings its own perils.
Rebellion there may and perhaps must be in order to come to maturity, but maturity must come, with the capacity and the insight to accept the facts of the human condition. We are learning to our cost that our apparent domination of our planet, and possibly others, does not make us free to do as we please with it. Other forms of life that we consider subject to our will, as well as and including our own, can still punish and perhaps destroy us utterly for our transgressions against a natural order.
We are all caught in Indra’s net, in which, the myth tells us, at every crossing of the strands a bell is attached, so that any single movement, be it ever so slight, sets the whole in motion and every bell to ringing. Is it a cacophony, or a harmony? Does it depend on how we move and how we hear? Is this interweaving of relationships a cruel doom, or the possibility of treasure multiplied?  Can we know before the final bell rings for our apparent exit?
“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, “sufficient unto himself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; and if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as if a promontory were, as if a manor of thine own or thy friend’s were. Every man’s death diminisheth me, for I am a part of mankind; therefore send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”