Regarding the generational changeover

31 Jan

Joan Escarrabill

The day before turning 65 last November, I climbed up the 238 steps of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan (near FD Mexico). I did it with only a short break halfway up. At the top I had dyspnoea but I was able to hold a conversation without difficulty. I went down backwards holding onto the guide rope because my left knee didn’t allow me to go down in a conventional way, face forward, but I did get down. Human beings have the tendency of setting temporary goals arbitrarily. Establishing 18 as the legal age has nothing to do with the maturity of a person and nor does being 65 make you old. To understand the idea of “getting old” it might be more objective to remember, for example, “the first time that  …”

  • … a resident doctor or student speaks to you in a formal way.
  • … an unknown person, on the street, identifies you with a “sir”.
  • … a young person offers you their seat on the underground or bus.
  • … you come across a book in a second-hand bookshop and see that you have the same one, bought many years ago (and remember perfectly well where and when you bought it).
  • … you realise you are no longer able to run.
  • … you forget to hail your bus or don’t run down the stairs in an underground station to catch a train.
  • … you look for the banister to descend a staircase.
  • … you receive a letter from the Town Council saying that you are eligible for a “pink pass” (senior citizen’s transport pass)
  • … in a professional meeting you are asked directly how long you have before retirement.
  • … your presentation is appreciated because you know the history of the problem well.
  • … or comments are made saying that your beard puts years on you.

All this does not happen to you at 65. All this occurs little by little, in an irreversible manner. It is biology. And worse for those who don’t get there.

That is why retiring at 65 is no more than an illogical convention bereft of justification. There are people who anxiously wait for retirement to be able to “do the things they like”. I don’t understand this idea of retirement at all. Maybe it’s because I don’t understand retirement with a set date (like an expiry date). Whatever the case, I don’t see the need to retire to do other things because I really like what I do.

A very different thing is to reject retirement and to hold onto the monopoly of space, time and ideas. A generational change over is essential. With time, we all tend towards stability and Darwin showed us that the more stable a system, the less possibility it has for survival. A stable system has little variability and therefore little capacity to respond to new situations. The limited capacity of response impedes adaptation and therefore leads us to the same future as that of the dinosaurs.

It is much more important to talk about a generational changeover than retirement. Some key ideas in my opinion are:

  1. No generation has the right to stipulate how their successors should live. Each generation has the right (and obligation) to live as they see fit.
  2. No generation has the right to leave the space they have occupied in a way that impedes successive generations to design it the way they think best.
  3. No generation has the right to prevent successive generations from moving forward at their own chosen speed. Each one can move forward at the speed they desire but there comes a time when generations that have more past than future cannot monopolise the fast lane on the motorway.
  4. There is no need to consider retirement as a “set date” although it is imperative to be clearly aware that natural evolution will lead us to gradual invisibility.
  5. Experience DOES NOT generate knowledge. Experience is very useful to identify patterns more quickly, to increase the “bank of solutions” or to carry out repetitive tasks with greater precision (although it won’t be long before machines beat us at this). What generates knowledge is curiosity, critical thinking and hard work (very hard work), in other words, perseverance.
  6. Each generation has the duty to explain what they have done and why they did that. They need to put this forward for general consideration. This should not be done to gain recognition but to be questioned so as to help learn from mistakes and to avoid others committing unnecessary reiterations.
  7. Naturally, no generation has the right to define the agenda that a succeeding generation needs to follow. Giving an opinion with a critical spirit, yes, always, but stipulating the itinerary based on experience is doing a great disservice to the generational changeover.

All this is not a justification for paralysis. There are always challenges in this process. It is always possible to find “blue oceans” on which to sail. Joaquim Mª Puyal has returned to the radio. I have not listened to him at all but I have read some declarations in which he stated that “at my age, a challenge is a luxury”. We can (should) look for challenges at any given time, but with the rules of the game in mind.

A friend of mine, Josep Mª Monguet, told me that he went to visit a friend of his who was very ill. He said that the man, now ill, had always been very active. When he saw him, my friend, using a stereotype said to him: “What are you up to these days?” “I think up concepts”, he replied. After all, you are very fortunate if you can still “think up concepts”.

Post written by Joan Escarrabill (@jescarrabill)