Friday, July 31, 2009

Countries and People: Reflections on Getting Old

When does a person become "old"?

If you ask my teenage kids, 40 seems ancient.

Ask a 40-year old and middle age doesn't hit until the mid 50s.

Maybe getting old is more a matter of mindset than chronological age: People become old when they decide that the best years of life are behind them.

In that case, I know old people in their 30s and I know young retirees.

These thoughts were prompted by the latest Rasmussen Report showing that 49% of Americans believe that America's best days are in the past.

How does this attitude affect investments in U.S. debt? Shares? Currency?

The national discussions focus on rationing health care, cutting carbon emissions, and avoiding financial meltdowns due to housing, unemployment, and banking failures.

When people are old, they spend more energy addressing their ills than maximizing their well-being. Maybe countries aren't so different.


Michelle B said...

As an American ex-pat living in various European countries for the last twenty years, I have found that Americans are blind
to the fact that their strengths, the very attributes that define their society, can have negative aspects that need to be confronted, that Americans have an inflexible grasp of what is meant by best.

For many Americans, best simply means the biggest, the greatest, the most money-getting behavior, being the most competitive, most aggressive, on the global stage. The American dream is defined by those constraints, but they are placed on the smaller stage of America, that you must, must, must do better than your parents. What happens if your parents did so well, that doing better than them becomes meaningless and trite?

It is necessary of course to define what best is. To me, an important feature of a good set of mind is flexibility, that is, the ability to learn from mistakes. You then add on to a solid base of knowledge, continuing learning from mistakes, while continuing to add onto a good solid but growing base.

For those you do not have a solid base to begin with, or who have an invested interest in not learning from their mistakes, then the best will certainly appear to be behind them when others, with a more flexible and courageous set of mind, change their world for them.

Flexibility of mind is youth, and as you age, you balance out the rather problematic rabid enthusiasms (urged on by hormonal rushes) of youth with the sobering aspects of physically aging along with the steadying quality of continuing, but slowing, plasticity of your mind.

Yes, at this time, America is more interested in bemoaning changing reality than embracing the future. America is getting old, not because time is passing, but because its mind set is old. And I think much of American culture encourages this nearly psychological tyrannical, ossified, stuck-in-mud approach to living.

Captain Dave said...

"For many Americans, best simply means the biggest, the greatest, the most money-getting behavior"

Clearly you have been out of the country too long. You are describing wall st not main st. Americans are people like any other. They want life, health, liberty and prosperity in that order. They have dreams and hopes. Not everyone in America is a money grubbing Goldman Sachs employee. Most of us revile that breed.

keithpiccirillo said...

Some people die at 30 but they aren't buried until they are 80.
The same can be said for inefficient governments that lead their countries.

Frenj said...

I heard a similar idea years ago. Someone once told me: Countries are like people. They may start as dependent on "parent" countries, as a colony. But then they grow and, like teenagers, seek their independence. Then they mature and look to re-establish relations and get into economic pacts and other alliances, United Nations, European Community, etc...

We all know that cultures ebb and flow. Excesses appear that lead to the downfall of every great civilization. It happened with Egypt, Greece, the Roman Empire, etc... We have lived at the top and greatest of the American power. But excesses happened. Politically, America is quite "alone" in the world, as a Super-Power, feared and not much loved. Economically, we have outsourced our jobs to be able to consume more and more for cheaper and cheaper.

The US consumes an abnormal percentage of the world resources.

Is it so bad to stop being the "Super-Power" in order to become one equal among equals? To grab less so that others may have some too? To be less feared and more loved?

I don't think that people (and nations) get old when they think their best days are behind them. They get old when they refuse to keep learning and adapting to their new condition.