Asset Management

Practice being a little more flexible and empathetic

Age is inevitable. Hypocrisy and unkindness are choices.

By Jim Montague

Time passes faster as we rack up the years and experiences. I've witnessed more older relatives and friends die recently; seen more people my own age—and me—complain of stiff joints, and rock forward and groan to get up from chairs; and watched youngsters I knew as babies take on some adult-level stresses and disappointments.

All this is inevitable, of course, because as multi-cellular vertebrates, we're slaves to our biology. More recent coverage adds we're apparently also in thrall to our gut bacteria. However, even though many of us are one torn ligament away from walking like an old person, physical aging isn't as scary as some of the mental shifts I've seen lately. I'm not talking about Alzheimer's or other identifiable, physiological ailments. I'm talking about the perfectly healthy rigidity, intolerance and unkindness that seems to seep in and creep up on us during middle age.

Lately, I've heard repeated grumbling about Millennials and their crazy habits and work/life balance priorities. When you think about it, it's pretty hilarious to hear Baby Boomers talk about those lazy kids, which was the same label pinned on them when they were young. I realize age may drive perspective, but you'd think people might pause before hurling the same insults that used to be lobbed at them.

This reminds me of then-new homebuyers in suburban Chicago, who I watched protest the residential development of a cornfield across the street, even though their own subdivision had been a cornfield just nine months earlier. It was my introduction to what I've called "pulling up the ladder, and the heck with everyone else."

Of course, the latest example of this selfish phenomenon is the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants seeking to deny and restrict entry to many of the most recent arrivals. The argument that today's immigrants are illegal doesn't wash because severely restrictive laws, intimidation and abuse have always been heaped on each new group when it shows up, including the parents, grandparents and great-parents of many of those now doing the persecuting. What a proud legacy. As I've asked before, who's more of a true American? Someone that wants to come the U.S., and work to make a better life for their family, or someone that wants to prevent them from doing it?

Personally, I'm just waiting for someone I saw get scolded for batting or kicking a ball into a neighbor's yard become the one that yells "get off my lawn!" to some present-day kids. I promise that I won't do it, but who knows if I'll remember?

Even the quickly digitalizing technologies used in process control and automation aren't free from this taint. Most recently, I encountered several self-made, formerly independent entrepreneurs, whose devices replaced the relays and pneumatic controls of former decades. They'd originally faced huge resistance, too, but they persevered because their components were far more cost-effective and efficient.

However, fast forward 20 years, and these same entrepreneurs are seeking regulatory shelter and corporate welfare for their increasingly obsolete devices, which they didn't update fast enough to compete with today's rapidly emerging Raspberry Pi, Arduino and other types of generic silicon and the software that runs on them. As usual, everyone's all for free trade and against government regulation until our own rear ends get bitten by someone willing work or sell products for less. We can't let them do to us what we did to someone else just a few years before.

What's the solution? Well, diet, exercise and other good behaviors can put off physical decay and aging for awhile. In the same way, I'm learning it's possible to maintain mental flexibility and acuity even longer, behave consistently, and actually treat others as we'd wish to be treated. Didn't that used to a rule or something? Sounds pretty old-fashioned these days.

Seriously, I believe we simply have to recognize old, resentful, fearful thinking for what it is, and practice being a little more flexible and empathetic. This may help us be more tolerant, patient and maybe generous to those in different circumstances, who could just as easily be us or our relatives a few years ago when everyone was younger.