Listening to the Nevermind Generation

Now we are too busy to think in terms of not being heard because all we hear is noise. But does this noise, this ability to comment and communicate with the world, answer our desire to feel like someone is listening?

Kurt Cobain (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kurt Cobain
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I was having a particularly difficult day last Friday, so when I went out to the local organic store, I was probably all grumps and grimaces. But despite my funk, I decided to strike up a conversation with a worker at the store.
One of the things you learn early on after making aliya is that, for some reason, there are Israeli radio stations that play almost exclusively English songs. Some are from my mother’s era (60s), some my own (90s), then the rest is Generation Y stuff (I guess … it’s now long after my secular listening escapades).
In an effort to convey something uplifting (usually a good way to get out of a personal funk), I started discussing an article I read several weeks back about Kurt Cobain.
For those who don’t know, Kurt was the lead singer of a band called Nirvana. The article was about the day he took his life twenty years ago in Seattle, in April 1994, written by a reporter who had just arrived there to cover a local music festival.
I mentioned to my new-found friend at the organic store that I found the article to be disappointing. When he asked me how I would have written it differently, I responded that I would have written about the “Nevermind Generation,” instead of a story about one person.
When writing about the tragedy of one individual, then even twenty years later, the story remains focused on the life of that one individual. But while Nirvana was never my favorite band, the “nevermind” sentiment still resonates for me to this very day. When a person feels like they are being ignored, like their voice isn’t being heard, then they are left feeling abandoned and alone. But instead of screaming out “nevermind” at the world, the pathway to healing involves properly confronting and articulating this pain.
Since the release of Nirvana's album Nevermind in 1991, arguably the X generation  (and now Y and Z) have plenty of outlets for our voices to be heard. Presumably then, now that we have Facebook, Twitter, and so forth, we shouldn’t feel so alone and ignored anymore. Right?
The Nevermind meditation
I didn’t mention this to the worker at the store, but there was another reason why I had hopes for that article. Because once we abstract the “nevermind” concept beyond the life of an individual or title of an album, to include the sentiments of a generation, then we can begin to appreciate the other “nevermind” moments that the early 90s were fraught with.
One advantage of being involved in the Jewish world is that it allows us to connect the dots. While the world at large may report on an event in the same manner for twenty years, through awakening ourselves to sense the Divine Providence in everything we see, we can shed new light on even old stories. Thus while many have spoken about “nevermind,” our challenge today is to meditate upon “nevermind.”
Feeling of abandonment
The Jewish world in the early 90s witnessed the passing of several important Jewish thought leaders including the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson), the Rav (Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik), Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Reb Shlomo Carlebach, and so on.
But each passing was met with a challenge; whether the followers, students or hasidim would make positive resolutions for the future, or God forbid, feel silenced and downtrodden. Once we divorce the “nevermind” concept from belonging to any particular author, we begin to appreciate that this word captures the sentiments of an entire generation.
There are many ways people cope with emotional anguish. For some, alcohol, drugs, gambling, compulsive eating, and other responses seem the only resort. At best though, these activities temporarily cover over or distract a person from some deep pain. While the best remedy is to articulate their pain and feeling of abandonment in therapy, oftentimes the initial response is to pick up a bottle and start drinking, etc.
We can then ask a very simple question:
While the voices have become louder since the early 90s is it that people now feel more connected and heard, or that we are attempting to drown out the silence of some deep-seated pain?
Now we are too busy to think in terms of not being heard because all we hear is noise. But does this noise, this ability to comment and communicate with the world, answer our desire to feel like someone is listening?
When I was having a difficult day last Friday, I appreciated that someone was there to listen to my tale, to my article in the making. Earlier that week I sent hundreds of emails out to Jewish educators informing them of a new crowdfunding campaign of mine. But while technically I was able to reach hundreds, those who responded were those I knew personally. Although technically the campaign is live on a website that anyone can view, those who have given thus far are friends of mine or of my wife.
While it used to seem attractive to send messages to the world, increasingly people realize that if a good friend comments, it was well worth the effort (the indication for this trend is the rise of micro-social networks).
It’s been twenty years since Generation Xers first asked the “nevermind” question. But while it once appeared that the internet and social media answered the question, we are beginning to ask another question: Now that I can speak to the world is anyone listening?
Social Revolution
If there is one shining moment in the era of social media it’s in the ability to stage a revolution. But instead of leading to anarchy, the point of positive revolutions is in the establishment of a new, better system. So when in recent weeks we experienced the unprecedented Facebook protests in support of David the Nahlawi, and now two soldiers of the Nahal Brigade's Regiment 50, we also began to see a shift from the desire to have our personal voices heard to our one collective voice.
But this is also what the Jewish thought personalities mentioned earlier (and those not mentioned) represent. A leader speaks on behalf of their community, and while his voice appears to be singular, his words represented the collective mind and heart of his followers.
Thus when rallying around a genuine and truthful cause, it is good to have in mind the genuine truth and goodness of these personalities. While they have since passed from this world, we have been given a great opportunity to complete the mission that they began.
Our generation is compared to “midgets standing on the shoulders of giants.” No matter what our personal stature, we can see further when we recognize our accomplishments today as “standing on” the accomplishments of previous generations
To quote from the Lubavitcher Rebbe:
“This should humble us and give us the perspective to realize how we would never have reached the point where we are now without their help. On the other hand, we must have the full strength and pride of knowing that we are on the threshold of Redemption, and our final good deeds will finally tip the balance and bring the complete Redemption.”
The way to heal the feeling of abandonment, the “nevermind” sentiment that was felt by both the Jewish world, and in some way by the world at large, is to realize that our actions today have the ability to complete the process that was furthered by thousands before us - to bring the Messiah once and for all.
Yonatan Gordon has spent most of his past 14 professional years in the world of Jewish publishing. He was the Marketing Manager at Kehot Publication Society (publishing arm of Chabad) for the better part of six years. He is founder of the website Community of Readers. Visit Yonatan's new Jewcer campaign "The Kabbalah of Business Book"  here.