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TWO OF THE IMPORTANT AFTER 50 LESSONS MR. TRUMP CAN TEACH US

I don’t know Mr. Trump. I see an experienced showman on television, read his speeches, and listen to the pronouncements of his staff. Arguing crowd size isn’t what it’s about for me. I’m not a therapist. Analyses aren’t going to happen here. I’m not an Ethicist, so you won’t find words like “lie” and my reactions to it in this blog.    I’m not a politician. You’ll need to go elsewhere for political analyses.

I am, however, a Developmental Psychologist and can speak my opinion with some authority here about life After 50. What’s the connection?

More often than not, when we say “Developmental Psychology” we’re studying and talking about children. How does a good 3-year-old get to be a great 6-year-old?    What do we need to understand and do to support this happening?

What far too few of us understand about After 50 is that human development is lifelong. We need to learn new skills and ways of thinking across our entire life spans.   If we don’t, our personal, decreased relevancy is guaranteed. Not only are we not fully “cooked” by the time we’re in our forties, some of our greatest opportunities and best work can happen in our 60s, 70s, and 80s. How does a good 50-year-old get to be a great 75-year-old? That’s the important question to me, the one to which I’ve dedicated years of research, writing, and observation.

Enter Mr. Trump. We all need to learn from each other through observation and conversation. Who is the most visible After 50 person in the world? You guessed it.    With all due respect, he leaves Queen Elizabeth (90), George Clooney (56), Sarah Palin (52), Clint Eastwood (81), Sonia Sotomayor (62), and Bruce Springsteen (67) in the After 50 dust when it comes to constantly holding our attention. I think we’re only beginning to learn from him and, as we all know, After 50 isn’t a time to stop learning.

Lesson #1: In the process of our own After 50 development, at some point it’s crucial that we each move from 51% or more externally validated to 51% or more self-validated. Later in our lives opportunities for external validation will decrease and so will our quality of life if we fail to learn this lesson.

I recently did some retirement work with a couple in their late 50s. The husband, a top national salesman, was terrified of retirement. His entire identity and self-esteem were built around his job performance each month. During the months he exceeded his sales target numbers, his self-esteem was through the roof. During the months he failed to meet his sales goals, his self-esteem was somewhere below the basement.    If he were retired, who would he be? He and I took opposite views on what to do. He wanted in retirement to find the next thing at which he could be a champion. I thought he was going to have to find a way to give up his addiction to ongoing “proof” because as he aged that external proof would become less and less likely in the long run. He wanted to know what would be satisfying and a guarantee to go with it before he made the leap. His wife, after many years on the proof rollercoaster with him, sided with me. Did he have the courage to give up being so dependent upon repeated external validation that ranked high on the “never enough” scale? Was he willing to do the work to get really comfortable and happy in his own skin? On a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), where do you rank Mr. Trump’s ongoing comfort in his own skin without dependence on validation hits? On the same scale where do you rank your own?

Lesson #2 In the process of our own After 50 development, at some point it’s crucial to allow  disagreements without creating enemies and opponents. Living a life of constantly seeing only opposites (self and opponents) and being at war is unlikely to create an After 50 life of any reasonable quality for you and your loved ones.

A couple came to me to do some life planning work. Money wasn’t an issue. The husband had lots of interests and looked forward to exploring them. The wife, however, was so dependent on the adulation of her children and grandchildren that they had begun to avoid family holidays with her. Why? She demanded their attendance at each and every holiday, birthday, celebration, and anniversary.  She was pugilistic. Anyone who wasn’t totally with her was considered to be against her.    She could be verbally abusive and a bully. She was tenacious, a veritable bulldog.   And this pattern – if you aren’t fully with me you must be against me – extended to friends, colleagues at work, staff, and, especially, her husband. Given time, she could recite long lists of opponents including her son in law, his family, and neighbors. Was she willing to go into a retirement that was less dependent upon war and opponents? What was reasonable to demand of retirement, and what was she willing to do to make it work?    On a scale of 0 (low) to 10 (high), where do you rank Mr. Trump’s ongoing preference for having opponents and conducting interpersonal wars? On the same scale where do you rank your own?

In my own case, I’ve assumed some of my best work and greatest opportunities will happen After 50. I’ve written a book about retirement and life planning in times of increasingly unplannable, discontinuous change. “How Do I Get There From Here?” will be released by AMACOM (publishing division of the American Management Association) in July. For me it’s a bold expression of what experience and expertise tell me will work for most of us in the coming years. Some days it also feels like a huge risk to put myself and my ideas so far out there in public. My own, personal developmental job is to rely more on my independent sense of myself than I am on the book’s success. Usually I’m OK with it.  Some days are a bit of a push. How could I possibly write about After 50 ideas if I’m not willing to take them head on myself?

I don’t know Mr. Trump but I’d like to thank him for the lessons he makes available to me. We are all – or should be – mirrors for each other. We After 50 will do well to pay attention. I hope he is intensely successful as President for all our sakes. We certainly stand – if we’re available for it – to learn a lot about how to build or injure our collective future.

Please Think Before Hitting The Forward Key

Maybe it’s the position of the moon or the condition of Presidential and Local Politics. Maybe it’s the polarized distribution of wealth and resources or the clarifying of social hierarchies we have known were there but often pretended were not. Maybe it’s something in the air or in the water. Maybe it’s because I write these blogs and am known to have wide range of interests and friends.

 

Whatever the cause, I am lately the recipient of a growing number of email Forwards and Forward to All.

And I’m not very happy about it.

This week alone I have received:

1. A scathing, one-sided article about Secretary Clinton with a note at the top from the forwarder saying only “Isn’t it awful what we’ve come to?” I happen to know from experience that the sender’s primary approach to life is Ain’t It Awful?. It’s as if he had studied under Eric Berne and practices doing everything Berne suggested not to do. His standard opening, in-person gambit is usually a recitation of all the things that disappointed him or he didn’t like. Eventually, much later, he gets around to what was OK. Maybe.

2. A link to an article about how much money best-selling authors make. No message from the sender at all. This came from a devoted friend who lives large and has great ambitions for the person and professional he thinks I can and should become. He’s a dear man and I really appreciate his loyalty if not his clinging to hopes for me that I don’t share. For my part, as someone whose wings have often been lamed by hope, I’ve long since discovered the corollary to hope isn’t hopelessness. It’s faith, intention, and adaptability.

3. An article quoting Christian Clergymen positing how good Mr. Trump is for Christianity overall and for the American churches specifically because he is naming and calling out the very devils the bible warns us against. This came from a friend whose very conservative Christian values and practices I respect because they are so important to him. No note from the sender accompanied the forwarded article. Was the sender hoping to nail down my vote?

4. A supposedly funny photograph of a large bosomed woman accompanied by a tag line. This came from a man now in his 70s, who unbeknownst to me must still belong in his heart to his 7th Grade “Hubba Hubba Did You See Those?” Club – that club of clueless and pimply adolescent boys who spend a lot of time alone in the bathroom with the door locked. All of the recipients of this forwarding were men. I don’t know whether to be more shocked at the email itself or at the realization of how little the sender knows me. I do know I don’t want to belong to that group of recipients.

5. A link to a deck of photographs, embedded in an email from a friend. The color and black and white images were of interesting, relatively un-photographed but historic places around the globe. Each image had a short title explaining what it was. At the top of the email was a note saying “I thought of you and your love of both photography and world travel when I saw these. They pleased me and I hope they will please you also.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one receiving a barrage of forwards. And I don’t want my friends and colleagues to stop forwarding emails and information that is of real value. What I want – and firmly request – are these four things:

1. Always put a note at the top of your forward explaining what you found of value in the content, why you think it should be important to me, and how I could use the information.

2. Take thoughtful, personal responsibility for the quality and impact of what you are putting out into the internet.

3. Consider what you are attempting to contribute to the receiver (whether it’s me or anyone else) and whether or not the receiver is likely to somehow benefit from receiving the material.

4. Before you hit Send or Forward make a clear distinction between information that could improve the conversation and understanding versus information that fans the flames from a single perspective and in doing so exacerbates the muddiness all around us.

What are you receiving you wish you hadn’t and what are you doing about it?

What are you not receiving you wish you could and what are you doing about it?

 

For more on what sparked my interest with this topic check out: Eric Berne and Games People Play


Inspiration Might Be Sitting On Your Left

I’ve just come back to the office from a deeply inspiring lunch meeting. For all our important work with “Seniors” and the services many of them need, I think we tend to carelessly lump then together, regularly falling into the trap of no longer seeing them as individuals and very, very bright people with full biographies. The fact is lots of “Seniors” are still trucking along admirably with significant humor, vigor, and insightful thinking. Chronological age is clearly not the primary determinant of much of anything.

I am fortunate enough to belong to an almost 70-year-old professional media and journalism-oriented organization. It is made up of retired print and broadcast executives and professionals, along with the rest of us still working in several forms of journalism and media.

These older men and women were heavy hitters with long careers in exciting times for their industry, complete with opportunities that are now unlikely if not impossible.   It’s always a revelation to occasionally experience myself as one of the youngest people in a room full of really articulate, experienced, passionate people. How often do my peers and I get that chance for inspiration?

Essentially, the organization is a luncheon club where we come together at a common table with microphones available to review and discuss a wide variety of topics from journalism and media perspectives. We discuss current issues of local, national, and international importance (political positions and religion are not permitted). This isn’t a bunch of geezers telling war stories and reminiscing. This is a group of thoughtful, experienced minds coming together for highly informed discussions. About 45 of us gather each time, both men and women. The membership is larger than that, so the attendance is slightly different at each meeting.

What did I find inspiring today, you ask? I’m glad you inquired.

A woman in her late 70s (an unrepentant thespian) played her instrument-studded washboard and sang everything from Jazz to Rap as warmup entertainment. She remarked on her pig tails and wrinkles, and then announced that all it took was moderate musical prowess and, blessedly – no longer having much sense of shame – an increased capacity for joy. She knew how to seize a point and get it across, grabbing our attention without doing or being anyone we would usually expect. And all the while her significant dignity shone through. How many of us can do that well, I ask you?

The gentleman on my left, 93, remarked about having written a piece with his daughter announcing his wife’s recent death for posting on his Facebook page.

Two men in their early eighties got into a heated debate about where journalism ends and media begins. Journalism and media, although we often mash them together, are not synonymous as we all know.

Today there was a general discussion about the November 13 letter to New York Times readers from the Publisher and the Senior Editor reflecting on issues with their campaign and election coverage. Full article HERE .

A famous elections polling analyst/scientist and journalist, easily in his late 70s, talked about the intelligent limits of polling and how they can miss what’s really going on.

I’m not some voyeur at these lunches. When it was my turn, I talked about my notion that we had all been prisoners of the images and language of local/regional/identity politics and, therefore, unwilling and unable to think and behave otherwise. It’s my opinion that we, as a nation, HAVE AN EXCESS OF LANGUAGES AND IMAGES THAT SEPARATE US AND are missing the ALTERNATIVE language and images to understand commonly shared pain and hope, without which we have little opportunity to actually create an inclusive dialogue. I’d like us to do a journalistic investigation of this without having to have another September 11 to pull us all together again.

The lady to my right, in her middle 70’s, is so alert and attentive that her eyes sparkle. She worked with Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, among others, and clearly understood the historic nuances in all of the remarks.

It’s my experience that many of us suffer from absence of intelligent intergenerational engagement and the inspiration that can accompany it.   My grandchildren regularly teach me important information I might otherwise miss entirely. When I say intergenerational engagement, I’m not talking about 3 or 4 generations showing up for a big holiday meal and watching sports on television rather than actually interacting. I’m talking about seizing the opportunity to look to my right and my left and observe the wisdom and perspective each generation brings from the lives they have led, regardless of age.

I’m inspired and this came from accomplished professionals senior to me.

What do you do for inspiration in your own life, especially multigenerational inspiration?

A Scandalous Request Of The Media And Ourselves

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at these words. What do they have in common?

  • Scandal
  • Crooked
  • Discredited
  • Narcissism
  • Harassment
  • Weapon
  • Lie
  • Defeat
  • Abuse
  • Hate
  • Witchcraft
  • Steaming Mess
  • Satan
  • Crackdown
  • Helpless
  • Farce
  • Seduce
  • Murder

They are all part of recent media hyped headlines in print, broadcast and all forms of internet/social media. I started counting and keeping track a couple of weeks ago out of desperation.

Of course the media is to blame for showing little restraint in using inflammatory, high load, pedantic language in headlines and articles. Undoubtedly it boosts subscriptions and followers but does it help our nation?

Our elected leaders contribute to this too. Just watch members of Congress grandstanding in public view with their righteous indignation and blame outweighing a search for solutions.

But we consumers are to blame too, aren’t we? Nearly all of us I suspect (including me) fall into the hype trap fairly regularly. We are the ones who are paying good retail money for hyped goods. Whether we’ve A. been conditioned to do so by our highly manipulated environment or B. been too titillated and lazy to redirect our attention or C. think it’s kind of fun as long as it doesn’t directly involve us and we don’t have to actually look at the hidden costs. The fact is that this level of highly hyped sewage doesn’t seem to phase many of us. We may roll our eyes and then move on. The fact is we’re still paying with our wallet share and with our attention. I think that’s regrettable.

I’m not objecting to the use of any of the words above. I am objecting to how they are often used AND how gratuitously these words (and others; this is certainly an incomplete list) are flung at us in inflammatory headlines and text.

As someone After 50 I believe in the power and grace of civility. And in the power of language. I know that I can’t shoulder the blame alone for where we are but I do bear some kind of responsibility for what is presented to all of us, including my grandchildren. If I’m hooked in all of this it’s how appalled I am at where this could lead them, much less us.

Here is my scandalous request of all of us consumers:

  1. Let’s all pick a specific week in which we are paying attention to the gratuitous use of hype from all the governmental and news sources we see. We would announce it in advance as a movement. Will someone please come up with a clever movement name?
  2. During that week whenever we see gratuitous and inflammatory hype we cancel our subscriptions, withhold our purchases and turn off everything from our tablets to our TVs.  Money, ratings, circulation, profit and shareholder returns are powerful tools for change and they are at our disposal if we do this right.
  3. We begin locally as an experiment. If it succeeds we go regional. If that has an impact we go national.

Mr. Trump has won the election.

May we now, all of us, begin to take greater responsibility for the language we employ/consume and the power it has to unify or polarize?   We don’t have anything to lose but the quality of our grandchildren’s futures and the tenuousness of our success at refocusing ourselves together.  Can we become a cohesive nation without the unifying catalyst we have historically relied on: a common enemy within or without, offered up on a bed of flaming hype?

What do you think?

Getting Real About Narcissism

I’m alarmed by the number of times I am hearing or reading the term Narcissism each week. I’m not alarmed by the term itself. I’m alarmed by the use of the term as a putative weapon of war.

Anyone who pays attention can attest that as a nation we often have a strong preference for collective notions/labels that lump ideas or people under a single illusory banner as if it were the solid truth. These lumping labels save us from having to do the more difficult, much more thoughtful work of making important distinctions so that we can see what’s really going on or who we’re really seeing. This, of course, puts us immediately on the slippery slope to inferior conversation and uninformed decisions.   We’re regularly abetted by the Press, Pundits, Educators, and our own sloppy thinking.

Take Liberal and Conservative for instance as labels. On the surface they work well to create the illusion of opposites. In fact, people don’t fit neatly into these boxes. At least 30 people have told me in the last month – usually out of the pain of discussing the national and local elections – that they are fiscally conservative and lean towards socially liberal.  More than that have told me – ditto – that they are abandoning their historic political party for this election.

Take Depression for instance as a label. On the surface it’s a homogenous condition characterized by sadness and loss of interest. In fact, it’s much more complex and nuanced than that, a combination of conditions that can vary from person to person.

Take Baby Boomer for instance as a label. On the surface it’s a homogenous group of people characterized by being born between 1946 and 1964. In fact, the diversity and complexity of the 76.4 million members of the Boomer Generation is staggering.

Which brings me to Narcissism. Like Depression, Narcissism is in many ways a sloppy, generalized label for a much more complex set of underlying conditions that need to be examined to understand what’s really going on. This is especially true if loyalties, decisions, actions and votes are going to be predicated on that label.

Here is a list of conditions to review – conditions that to a greater or lesser degree combine to form what we are calling Narcissism in the popular press and in our own conversations and conclusions:

  • Grandiosity
  • Need for admiration
  • Lack of real empathy
  • Need to be at the center of priorities and actions (think of a hub or a fulcrum)
  • Self-protective Conspiracy Theories
  • Absence of personal responsibility
  • Imperviousness to differing opinions or facts
  • Denigration of anyone who disagrees or holds a contrary position
  • Personal insulation from impact of words and actions

Regardless of who or what you are talking about – individual candidates, national and local political campaigns, elected and appointed officials at all levels, our neighbors, our peer group, our opponents and ourselves – here is a simple technique for examining what’s really going on:

  1. Identify the person or group
  2. Hold him/her/them up against the list of conditions above
  3. Use this scale for absence or presence of each condition:  -3   -2   -1   0   +1   +2   +3, assigning a number score to each condition
  4. Take a look at your scoring to see much more clearly what is really going on
  5. Use this information to inform your conversations, decision making, actions, and votes

This technique can be used in a wide variety of other situations, too.

I’m hoping that in taking a closer look at what’s really going on, the quality of our conversations, decision making, actions, and voting behaviors will improve far beyond the rhetorical, adrenalin-laden reactions and overreactions we’re seeing at the moment.

What are your own techniques for looking more closely at what’s really going on?

The Wisdom of Dan Fogelberg

I never thought I would see the day when I felt compelled to walk by the television news with my hands over my eyes and ears.  My wife, Linda, is a political news aficionado.  She has a large need for me to sit down and watch the media’s version of Secretary Clinton, Mr. Trump, Senator Sanders, and others parading their messages in front of me.  I have an equally large need for me to go to the far end of our house and read a book.  Our respective needs increasingly collide.  Her temporary tolerance for sloppy thinking, misuse of language/image, and for hearing promises that can’t possibly be kept far exceeds my own.

We can’t be the only ones in this situation.

Unwilling to become hopeless, I find I can only maintain a center of positive attitude by NOT immersing myself in the media’s callow pursuit of the most unworthy parts of our attention and the most unsavory aspects of the candidates.  And it’s our own fault that this is happening because we consistently fail to reach for the remote and hit OFF regularly.

Driving along in my car and listening to Pandora recently, the familiar voice of Dan Fogelberg grabbed my attention.

Love when you can
Cry when you have to
Be who you must, that’s a part of the plan
Await your arrival
With simple survival
And one day we’ll all understand
One day we’ll all understand
One day we’ll all understand

Dan Fogelberg – Part Of The Plan Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

There is absolutely NOTHING I can do to influence the current political situation of my country except wait to vote.  And vote wisely when the time comes.  Understanding is probably not possible.  Controlling is several degrees of impossible beyond that.

So I’m going to pin my hopes on Mr. Fogelberg’s lyrics.

There is no question I am surviving, distraught though I may be.

There is also no question that I hope to understand some day.  I want it all to make some sort of sense that only the passage of time can provide.

What are you doing to get through this ugly period of little understanding and even less control?

I really need help here.

No more tears

The news of John Boehner’s announcement—that he’s stepping down as Speaker of the House of Representatives and resigning from Congress—is still reverberating a week later.

While most of the discussion about this move has focused on his successor, I’ve got a different take on the news. Mr. Boehner has launched himself into one of the most highly public career transitions possible.

For the last three decades, he has been a political leader, long in the limelight, with considerable connections and clout He’s got to be asking himself, “Who will John Boehner be now?” without the mantle of responsibility and the perquisites of power.

Is he looking forward to a traditional retirement with lots of leisure time and a respite from the intense pressures he faced as Speaker? Will he stay in the game on the sidelines, as a political consultant and/or commentator? Or will he try his hand at something completely different? At 65, he’s still young enough to move in any of a number of career directions, assuming he still wants to work.

Whatever path he chooses, he’ll have to adjust to a new identity. People will react to him differently now that he’s leaving Washington, and, perhaps more importantly, he’ll need to redefine how he views himself. For many powerful people making a profound change like he is, the redefinition process can be jarring.

Mr. Boehner and I share a birthday (November 17; different birth years) and we also share the ability to cry in front of other people without shame. Still, what I’m hoping for him is that his transition won’t involve any more tears.O

I’m Angry

I admit it: I’m angry.  I’m angry that anyone of any age in my country would commit premeditated murder, much less in a church prayer session.

We’re supposed to be a nation of good guys. A beacon to the world that democracy works in the end.  The land of the free and the home of the brave. What was brave about murdering unarmed people?

I’m angry because many of us are still using deliberately obfuscating language like “shootings,” “mental illness” and “regrettable.” Those weren’t shootings.  Those were murders.  A tasteless joke is regrettable; a massacre is a tragedy.  Was some sort of mental illness to blame, exacerbated by an allegedly violent father and skinhead ideology? I’m a developmental psychologist, so I’ll leave a clinical diagnosis to psychiatrists.

What I can say is that life is a constant interplay between each of us and our environment.  It isn’t possible for Dylann Roof to be responsible without his environment—a region proud of pro-segregation rhetoric, a family wracked by violence—taking a substantial amount of culpability. That environment helped catapult an immature 21-year-old from a trash talker into a mass murderer.

I’m angry because all those people are needlessly dead. I’m angry because I don’t know what to do about any of this.

In my opinion, what this ISN’T about is:

  • Gun control
  • Avoiding the important conversations by saying he was just another mentally ill person
  • Isolated, random acts of violence
  • Flying or not flying a flag
  • Conservative or liberal
  • Religious freedom

In my opinion, what this IS about is:

  • Overt racism
  • Misuse of firearms
  • The alarming change in US terrorism: the rise of individual, vigilante actions in our country
  • Any environment, local or national, that passively/actively condones any of the above
  • Focusing on minutiae and symbols rather than looking the core issues square in the face
  • Practicing the Golden Rule as a nation.

The Golden Rule?  Isn’t that for preschoolers? I don’t think so.  It may seem like reductive code of behavior, but I believe that practicing the Golden Rule on a daily basis is much more difficult and important to do than following a simple list of good vs. bad things, Ten Commandments style.

Above all, I’m angry because our elected leaders, the people in a position to effect real change, are once again failing to act as a unified body, regardless of political party or individual political aspirations, and take a highly public position that this is NOT what our country is about and it will stop NOW.

This includes Congressional, state, and local representatives.  Their taking a stand won’t solve our vigilante problem, nor our lack of effective gun control, nor our overt, subtle and/or passive systemic contempt for people of color.  But it will at least model for our citizens and the world that our leaders have the courage and the integrity to project a clear, collective, highly public voice about the value of our citizens.

Taking the Confederate flag down is a start.  But there’s a long, long road ahead toward reconciliation.

The real action must start with South Carolina’s US Senators and Representatives Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, Mark Sanford, Joe Wilson, Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney, Jim Clyburn and Tom Rice.  They will have to be clear, highly public, and forceful in creating solutions.  Watch them.  Are they behaving like leaders?  Are they proposing real solutions, or are they just giving lip service until the media storm blows over? And are they focusing on the Confederate flag—a token, after all—to create the illusion they are taking a stand on the substantive issues the Charleston murders have raised?  Or are they helping bring about real change?

Listen to them carefully. Keep track of what they say and do for the next 17 months. Then, in November 2016, vote accordingly.

For more information on the growth of vigilante actions here in the US, I recommend this article:

Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11

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