A few months ago, I attended a function and happened to be sitting next to a very nice elderly man. Nothing particularly noteworthy in that, but bear with me. Said individual had a long and distinguished legal career before retiring but was enjoying his elderly years on a journey of study. Study not for vocational reasons but merely in the pursuit of knowledge. This is perhaps the purest reason for education, but I digress.

Sitting next to that chap was another aged gent next to him, and the three of us started discussing youth and the aged. Unsurprisingly to many readers I suspect but we fell into that trap that is often a risk to those of a certain age, demography and social status: we quickly reverted to that tempting viewpoint, that wisdom is something that comes with age. These two gents, being well-read, cultured, aware, analytical, and insightful but also of a certain age, conflated these traits. They determined that age and wisdom were somehow inextricably linked.

I was reminded of yet another of my bons mots

Correlation does not equal causation

Or, in other words, the simple fact that these chaps were aged and wise, does not mean that they were wise BECAUSE they were aged. The conversation descended, as these things often do, into a criticism of the way things are today and prognostication that in this era of Google and ChatGPT we’re breeding a generation that will lack the wisdom that these gents displayed.

Fortuitously on the same evening, some recognition was given to a young person who disavows anyone of the notion that young people of the future will be limited in their outlook. Jack is something of an enigma. I first met him close to 10 years ago, when he was a young graduate in his first job doing technical things with Excel spreadsheets. At the time, I like many others, dismissed him as simply a crazy smart, but mono-dimensional individual who would do well in one very small part of the system, but never really broaden.

How wrong were we? Fast forward 10 years and the subject of this week’s article continues under the same employment but has grown in capacity, capability and gravitas. Said Jack has taken on the mantle of everyones’ hero. He’s confident and deeply insightful. He’s clear and concise. He’s supportive. And he can even have a laugh. Of course, some of his judgement calls I’d question, and he’ll chuckle seeing me reflect upon that. But at the same time, maybe he’s the wise one and in a few years he’ll prove me wrong.

So what is the takeaway from all of this? Well, the most important thing to reflect upon is that things aren’t binary. Simple and generalistic statements such as “young people lack the life experience to make good decisions and need a few decades at the coal face before they have real decision-making power” are ridiculous. But so are those along the lines of “all these Boomers really don’t have a clue and can’t contemplate what the modern world is really like. They’re living in a time warp and need to give up their power to a new generation.” Generalisations are, as the word implies, so general that they have little part to play in the real world.

Of course, the corollary to all of this is the current situation we have now where people are afraid that constructive criticism of an individual will be assumed to be criticism of all individuals within that cohort. One might, for example, assess Greta Thunberg as lacking a certain broadness of perspective that would be quite useful in the context of climate change. But this doesn’t mean that all of her ilk display the same trait.

In the same way, some people are quick to criticise bad behaviour from an individual and then immediately determine that the behaviour in question occurs because said individual is an older, white male. Remember, correlation doesn’t equal causation, and bad behaviour doesn’t for a moment suggest that all individuals from that demographic (those older white men) will demonstrate the same tendencies.

The world is less socially cohesive than it has ever been before and generalisations help to increase that divisiveness. It’s worthwhile considering for a moment my mate Jack and recognising that he has a wisdom that belies his tender age. Food for thought.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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