I am fully prepared to get blasted from both the young and the old that read this post. But as I pass another milestone in less than a month, the question has bothered me a bit and I have sought to find an answer. Perhaps it has puzzled you as well?
You see it every day in all walks of life. Driving down the highway, a line of cars will suddenly appear in front of you for no particular reason. You were cruising along at traffic speed (which typically is about 15 miles above the speed limit) and you find yourself punching for the brakes, perhaps with a small curse on your lips. Its a two lane winding road and there doesn’t seem to be any escape from this slowly moving mobile impediment to progress. Finally, the road in front of you dips into a valley as you crest the hill and you see it. A well preserved older cream colored Buick four door sedan with two white heads in the front seat, one male and one female. They are on their weekly trip to the Dollar store to buy whatever sundries they imagine they need. Your plans to arrive a few minutes early to the next client are dashed as you feel your blood pressure slowly climbing.
Why do old people move so slow?
I freely confess that I am guilty of ageism. It is an insidious prejudice that affects much of current day America. We are used to making forward progress in an unrestrained manner and every little thing that slows us down adds stress and discomfort to our lives. Whether its the grocery line, the doctors office or the highways of America, you see them everywhere. My friends that live in Florida tell me that after Christmas, the entire state is plugged solid with these geriatric commandos. You see them driving dangerously at or below the speed limits that no one else seems to pay attention to and they shake their heads at the daredevils that race by them when given an opening.
With all the resources and regulations we have in this country, surely something can be done. Can’t it?
Listening to the radio this morning on the way to visit a client, I heard a talk show host surmise something about a common denominator which tied three of the recent special elections. The losers all had something that was a similar characteristic: They were all over the age of fifty.
In a recent election that is very close to home, the guy who won could have been the son of the guy he beat. The guy he beat is someone with a lifetime of experience in a variety of fields that are absolutely relevant to the position he was competing for. Legislative experience, foreign diplomacy experience, a ton of world experience in several of the world’s hot spots and a very strong bias that indicates he would have been an excellent choice for a majority of the people he was seeking to represent.
His opponent was a young, photogenic, handsome, physically fit specimen of a person. His resume was as thin as the cellophane that covered my half eaten banana and his military service record was nothing short of underwhelming. Since he had never done anything in political life, he had created no enemies and it was easy for him to tell people that he was capable of independent thought and action since he had never demonstrated either in the real world.
The public (probably heavily influenced by a favorable press) chose the younger guy. No track record, no life achievements to point at that apply to the job just another pretty face. The TV talking heads (even the national ones) all labeled the losing candidate as “slow” “sluggish” “Uninspiring” and on and on. I have to be honest with you and tell you that anyone who said that did not know him nor had they ever seen him in action. Maybe its because I am older than him, but every time I have seen him he overflows with a positive energy that fills each room. I have known him for years and have always had a deep admiration for his skillful knowledge of events and issues. We have talked a number of times about what concerns us in the society we live in. His experience is exactly what would have made him the exact right person for the seat he was competing for. It is a loss for our country that he was not selected. I hope the mistake is not repeated.
But the elephant in the room is this: We are all a society that has abandoned the wisdom of age for the hope of an unproven and untested young person. We hope against hope that we won’t get burned again. We keep praying that the glib young athletic suit filler will smile away the real troubles of the world.
It doesn’t work that way. It never has and it never will.
A few years ago, I noticed an opening for a nearby company that manufactures components for the Navy. The position was one which required years of experience in leadership, continuous improvement, culture change, problem solving and learning. It would be necessary for the successful candidate to have experience in all of these fields and bring a sense of passion to help this company get to the next level. The screening process was long and arduous but I finally made it to the short list of candidates. On the day of the interview, I was fully prepared to talk about my most successful as well as greatest challenges. There should have been no doubt that a retired navy officer with nearly twenty years of manufacturing experience could come in to the organization and help them achieve their goals.
I walked into the interview and there was only one man of the fourteen people in the room that even remotely looked like he was older than fifty. The rest were attractive young engineers and other professional types that sat with their cups of designer coffee in front of them. Before we even began, the older gentleman said that since he knew many of the same people I associated with in the Navy League, he was recusing himself from the process. That left me alone in the room with the unhappiest looking group of millennials I can ever remember seeing in one place.
The interview did not go well. In less than an hour, they had demonstrated the ability to emphasize my age with out actually saying they were focused on my age in a way I had never experienced before. I will readily admit that I no longer cut the dashing figure I did in 1990 when I was commissioned in my dress white uniform. There is a bald spot on the back of my head and I keep the rest short to minimize the grey that is slowly sneaking into my previously brown hair. I probably moved with a little more deliberateness as I came into the room and my answers were thoughtful and reasoned (or so I thought at the time).
At the end of the interview, I was actually relieved.
I have worked in enough cultures to know when I would be a good fit and it was painfully obvious that this was never going to be a good fit. I could see in their eyes, nearly every one that they had hoped for a twenty five year old with thirty years of experience. I almost felt sad to have disappointed them. But I saw another look in their eyes that clearly said “this is the old guy driving the well preserved older cream colored Buick four door sedan, and he is just going to slow us down.”
Postscript on that story: I get alerts on a routine basis from LinkedIn, a popular website used for professional networking. On the website, they have a feature called “Jobs you might be interested in.” Since the unsuccessful interview three years ago, the position has been reposted as available three years in a row. The company is still struggling too based on many articles I have read about them. Perhaps the execution committee did me a favor after all.
Its given me pause to think a lot about age and our society. I have answered the question about why people move so slow. The answer was clearly right in front of my eyes (although to be honest the cataracts I used to have may have obscured my vision as well as my own inner bias.)
Old people move slow because they have learned the dangers of moving too fast by experience and observation.
Driving too fast increases your risk of hitting things. Answering too quickly means you have not given yourself enough time to think through what was asked. Constantly changing directions means you aren’t very good at picking out the right direction. Judging based on appearance flies in the face of the most importance wisdom ever written.
1 Samuel 16:7 7But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
The most significant reason I can think of when answering why old people move so slow is this:
They are weighed down with the collective experience and wisdom that only comes from having survived all the stupid mistakes that the younger person has yet to make.
I sincerely apologize to anyone who may have been offended by this post.
Hopefully it hasn’t triggered anyone and God forbid I am the cause of the creation of yet another safe space.
If you feel I have been unfair in any way, tough shit.
I am now old and know that your feelings, while fragile, will heal with age.
(Has anyone seen my keys? I’m in the mood for a drive now)
after I posted this today, I saw an article that may explain some things… enjoy