Friday 24 October 2014

Brendan O'Connor: We make even baby boomers look good

Mid-life Crisis

Published 30/03/2014 | 02:30

GENERATION X MARKS THE SPOT: Could Bill and Hill be laughing at the generation behind them?
GENERATION X MARKS THE SPOT: Could Bill and Hill be laughing at the generation behind them?

IT'S hard enough coming to terms with being older on a personal level, but when you carry with you the shame of your whole generation, it's even worse. It was easy when we were younger. When we were Generation X and the baby boomers were in charge, it was easy to sit and sneer. Bill and his weakness for cigars and plain girls. George W and his dumbass sense of entitlement. Tony and his slightly mad-eyed evangelism that was still, somehow, hollow and fake.

They were weak, the baby boomers. They had never known a war, they had had it all too good. They were about style and not substance. They were no Churchills. A vain, silly, self-regarding generation of woolly liberals. At least it gave us something to rebel against.

And then, a terrible thing happened to us. Suddenly, our generation was in charge. I am admittedly at the younger end of the Hollow Generation that runs the world now but I am old enough to cringe as I watch them at it. I am old enough to look at them and think these guys are not that far removed from me in wisdom and experience. And they are in charge. And it is truly shameful and terrifying. Suddenly my peers are the adults, we have stepped up to the plate, and it turns out we are the Keystone Cops.

The modern leader likes to walk around, setting a positive tone about everything, talking about how everything is good and hearing about how everything is good. They get annoyed at inconvenient realities. Look at Obama. He is classic. People used to say Ronald Reagan was a B-movie actor playing a president. At that rate, Obama is a local Am-Dram Ham playing some weird version of the President from the West Wing. Everything about him looks fake, from the mannered speeches to the smile or determined look, neither of which reaches the eyes.

The only time I truly believe in Obama is when he looks sulky and impatient when things aren't going his way. Who knew that good old Bill Clinton would suddenly seem like Churchill, walking around saving the world, spouting facts and figures about everything? Next to the new generation, Bill seems almost modest and thoughtful.

Look at leadership in general, in this country, possibly even the leadership in your own job. Practically everyone I know has told me at some point recently that the people they work for are spoofers whose only major talent appears to be to take what should be the kind of minor crisis that is dispatched quickly, and instead turn them into mammoth messes.

This is generally achieved by two things. Modern leaders tend to be extroverts. They get where they are by impressing people. Which is great. But it tends to mean they are not the kind of guys who take time to think about things. They are not the kind of reflective people who listen to people, who take in all the information, and who then put it away in their heads, let it marinate for a while, and come to a conclusion. How anyone can expect to do anything right without harnessing their inner introvert to brood over issues before coming to decisions is beyond me.

Secondly, the major drive of the modern leader is not to solve a problem, but to prove that they did nothing wrong. As much as I enjoy apportioning blame, I like to think I am atypical of my generation when it comes to how to deal with a crisis.

I don't always live up to this but, in general, I like to try and abide by the principle that if I got it wrong, the right thing to do is admit it. If nothing else, it kind of disarms people. I also think that everyone should apologise liberally and generously. It costs you nothing and it actually relieves you of a huge burden. Instead of putting all that energy into collating an interpretation of events that proves it is not your fault, why not just say, "Sorry. I screwed up. OK. Let's fix this. I have changed my mind. I was wrong. You are right."

I genuinely don't understand why this is such a problem for so many powerful people, which perhaps explains why I am not a more powerful person myself. If anything, I blame myself too much, even if things are not my fault. But that's no harm either. If anything, it gives you a bit of credibility when you dig your heels in and believe you are right.

And it gives me positive energy to do the things I need to do next. Rather than using all my energy in fighting rearguard actions trying to change history. When baby boomers look modest and reflective next to us, then mine is a generation in crisis.

Personally, I think it's something we should have a long, hard think about. But, let's face it. That's not going to happen, is it?

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