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The World’s Having a Male Midlife Crisis
If I didn’t know better (but I’m not sure I do), I’d say the world is going through a midlife crisis. Whether it’s halfway through its lifespan, I don’t know; but I think he behaves like a middle-aged man. As I read my morning Washington Post Today – with one eye on my quarantine plans – I couldn’t help but notice the parallels and similarities between the factors I face in my quarantine programs and what is happening around the world. Two of the three main causes of the midlife crisis (denial, blameand insulation) are at work. Just see how long the “experts” had been shouting those warning voices predicting trouble to come. Notice how, now that bubbles are bursting all over the world, finger pointing is in full swing.
Only insulation seems (at least on the surface) to be lacking, for, whatever their political beliefs, even the most diverse members of the international community have set aside their philosophical differences to wallow in the distractions of a rabid consumerism fueled by the credit. We now live in a global community (long live free trade!), it is therefore no longer possible to pretend that we are alone. When my house is foreclosed, the value of your property goes down. And yet, if I dig a little deeper, I wonder if we really are such an interconnected global community after all. Certainly, our fortunes are inextricably linked to each other (nothing could be more obvious that we stand or fall together), and yet our life-defining decisions are always made with a kind of reckless disregard for the consequences for our fellow human beings. Only the fundamentalists of the world maintain their doctrinal purity – but talk about a reckless disregard for consequences!
I think we are all here, stunned, confused and helpless, as we watch the interplay of never-unleashed political and economic forces swirl around us. However, I have noticed one fact: these forces wreaking havoc on a global scale are so incredibly Male! In our (unsuccessful) preoccupation with creating a hermaphroditic society, where we have tried to stick to the fundamental differences between masculinity and femininity, we have perhaps lost some of our appreciation of the vast differences in the cultural approach to decision-making that characterize both genders. Male culture is predominantly competitivewhile women’s culture is essentially cooperative.
Now take a look at what passes for political speech these days. For all the rhetoric about “crossing the aisle”, changing “politics as usual” and ushering in a new era of bipartisan cooperation, at all levels of the American political scene, we only see a desperate, testosterone-laden, hyper-competitive teen food fight disguised as dialogue. Talk about insulation! I see no attempt to build a cooperative consensus on the desperate issues that threaten to bring us down. All I hear is screaming to find out who is wrong, who did what, to whom and when. Don’t we sometimes feel like silent guests at a booze-laden cocktail party where a desperately unhappy middle-aged couple decided to take off the gloves in public and get caught?
I think you and I can learn some serious lessons about how do not to manage a transition to quarantine by carefully observing the scenario unfolding on the world stage. First, when things seem to be going well, don’t assume you’re on the right track. It’s all too easy to get distracted by the rush of apparent success when you have little warning voices ringing in the back of your head. You’ve heard the aphorism often enough: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s not just the banks and large corporations that have really benefited from the bubble: you and me too. Nothing says “midlife crisis” quite like the little red Corvette (or SUV or McMansion) on your property. You were taught to live within your means, your better judgment may have even been slightly uneasy, but did you listen? Nooooo!
Who handles denial and using various extravagances to cure feelings of unease. Then, when things get worse, there’s no point in looking outside of yourself for blame. Sure, you can clearly see what others did wrong (hindsight is always 20/20, especially when you’re not involved), but that doesn’t really matter, does- it not? Do you remember what your mother told you? “If everyone is jumping off a bridge, that doesn’t mean you have to too!” As long as you are looking for people to blame for your financial difficulties – or your misfortune – you are playing the victim. And when we assume the role of victim, we find ourselves stuck like the characters in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit (Enclosed house) where then, as now, “Hell is other people” (“Hell is other people”). The one good thing about playing the victim in your 40s, as in all situations, is that you yourself don’t have to do anything about it. You don’t have to change if it’s not about you, do you?
Finally, there is the piece on insulation. This one is incredibly difficult for the American male to handle, because us guys are doubly culturally crippled. As I mentioned before, we have the universal masculine cultural orientation that tells us that to be “real men” we have to fight to win. Competition is the name of the game in your career, in sports, in conflict, and of course, in family issues. If you can beat the competition in submission (using every means at your disposal), then you’re the winner – whether that really makes sense in the long run or not. It all depends on how it’s done.
The second punch in this punch that can throw men into a midlife crisis is that the United States leads the world in individualism. We have a lot of trouble understanding Asian or Latin cultures where they live from a community ideal. Culturally, they prioritize family, community and country. We talk about it, but it’s not our way of thinking or our way of life. Think about it: when was the last time a family member declined an invitation because dinner at home with the family was a primary obligation? That’s right; it never happens. It’s about you: your needs, your desires, your interests, your obligation. Isn’t the American ideal the self-made man? Isn’t everything tied to your property: your bedroom, your TV, your dog, your Privacy? We even enshrined the right to privacy in our interpretation of our Constitution. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying it defines’we‘ as a cultural entity.
Overcoming our particular acculturation as American men can be particularly difficult. It takes humility to admit that you’ve been wrong, that you don’t have all the answers, that you’re not perfect, that you can’t do everything, and that you need help. This does not mean that accepting these facts makes you a lesser man. In fact, the opposite is true. the Male chauvinism that suggests you are a superman is actually a caricature of masculinity. Yet until you become ready to overcome your cultural biases and learn cooperative communication (where your ego is in your back pocket), you are going to find the transition into midlife a very difficult road to navigate. The other factor you need to consider is the consequences. Just as you are swept away financially by the juggernaut of global economic collapse, you can just as easily be swept away by your personal midlife crisis, watching your family, your career, and your own self-esteem dissolve. In the process. Guys, you have your work cut out!
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