Opinion: Youth must have its fling but give age and experience its due

Trainer Joseph O'Brien looks jubilant as Jockey Corey Brown, right, kisses the winning trophy Photo: Andy Brownbill/AP Photo
Trainer Joseph O'Brien looks jubilant as Jockey Corey Brown, right, kisses the winning trophy Photo: Andy Brownbill/AP Photo

jim O'Brien

There were great celebrations when 'Rekindling', the horse trained by Aidan O'Brien's son, Joseph won the Melbourne Cup last week. At 24 years of age this was a huge achievement on the part of the young man, one that has eluded his father for a decade.

It is great to see the next generation coming up and taking their place in the front lines, there is a spontaneity and abandon to the approach of the young that can often bring success where failure was deemed supreme. They can often upend and uproot seemingly intractable problems.

Recent times have seen a mushrooming of the young to high places and I'm beginning to think that unless you're under 40 these days you're not at the races, if you'll pardon the pun.

Our own Taoiseach hasn't yet reached that four-decade milestone, nor has the Minister for Health or the Minister for Housing. The French President is also at the other side of the big 40 and as for the Austrian Chancellor, he's not long out of the pram.

As I write this I have to keep checking myself for envy, crabbiness and inverted ageism and I hope what I have to say comes from a genuine concern rather than from prejudice, regret or churlishness.

I suppose I am concerned that wisdom, perspective and experience, vital for rounded leadership are in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of youth.

Now, one could argue that the leadership of the world has been characterised in the main by men, and some women, of late middle age and older but the state of the planet is not exactly a monument to their wisdom and perspective.

Some of the world's more renowned leaders were young when they took on the mantle of power.

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Alexander the Great had the world conquered and was dead by the time he was 33, while, closer to home, Michael Collins led a revolutionary war that succeeded in liberating his country and was killed two months before his 32nd birthday. Across the water, Queen Elizabeth I was a mere 25 when she ascended the throne.

Looking back at my own 20s and 30s if I had them again I would do things a lot differently. When I glance at those years through my minds eye I remember frenetic activity, full diaries, long days, heartburn, Rennies and black coffee.

They were times of great exhilaration, of risks taken, certainties abandoned, new things tried and tasted. But they weren't years of great reflection. Impulse and reaction are words that come to mind.

Instances from history can be cited at both sides of the argument when it comes to age and leadership. JFK as President of the US heralded a new era as a new generation took the levers of power from much older men.

However, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and Vietnam smacked of impulse and reaction with their negative outcomes reverberating for decades. But then, the current incumbent in the White House is no spring chicken and is as impulsive and reactionary as a five year old after a sugar binge.

I suppose we must remember that our leaders, no matter how young or old, are guarded and guided by a cohort of civil servants, people not exactly renowned for acting on impulse. Indeed if that excellent TV series 'Yes Minister' represents even a shadow of the reality then we need not expect our world to be turned upside down any time soon by the hardy young bucks around Leo's cabinet table.

A downside to the current rich crop of young leaders is that, like De Valera, they could be around for a long time. Indeed, with that aid of modern medicine they could be around for the most of a century. A clerical friend of mine used to pray frequently that his diocese would be spared the imposition of a young bishop, "If he's a useless article we'll have him forever," he'd say, "we'll be waiting a generation for the Grim Reaper to cure our ailment." What is needed at leadership level is balance, balance between women and men, youth and experience.

We live in a culture where youth is deified, where sportspeople are over the hill at 30, where 'anti-ageing' has become an industry involving cosmetic products by the tonne, personal trainers, gyms and spas.

In such a milieu it is important that leadership does not become the sole preserve of the young, if for no other reason that bitter memory, perspective and experience are the best preventatives to repeating the same mistakes over and over.

Indo Farming


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