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Wisdom and Diversity

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, the admirable Peggy Noonan wrote that the age of youthful leaders should be brought to a close, and that the world needs more leadership built on the wisdom that only age and experience can bring. She’s part right – she just doesn’t take the thought far enough.

I thought I was wise when I was 18. I knew in my bones that I was an old soul and could see through the foibles of the world. But as Dylan wrote, “I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”

Oh my, I miss that sense of invulnerability and confidence. On the other hand, I smile to think how naive I was in that confidence, and how much more I know now in my questioning.

Would the middle aged leaders of politics and business do well to seek, as Ms. Noonan recommends, the wisdom of elders? Without doubt. The youthful Kennedy did, and became a better leader for it.

And yet, it’s good to remember that Dylan wasn’t even 25 when he wrote those mighty lines. In the wisdom of his youth looking back at the limits of his younger self, he created words that no elder could have penned.

So can the young benefit from the experience of the aged? Absolutely. But can our elders benefit from the insights of youth? Absolutely.

I extend Ms. Noonan’s argument. I recommend that we all, no matter what our age or station, actively seek diversity in our lives. The different energies that different ages bring to any situation can only enrich. Different perspectives open doors to new possibilities, and, inevitably, better decisions.

In the end, we are each responsible for our decisions. It is not possible to hand off that responsibility – we’re still on the hook even if we avoid decision or delegate it. So why not support your decision-making with input from the wisdom of elders and the wisdom of youth and the wisdom of different cultures and the wisdom of different genders, belief systems, races, classes, etc?

The point is not to create the paralysis that comes with over-analyzing and  too much choice, but rather to allow ourselves to view important situations through someone else’s eyes. Leverage the collective wisdom.

Then decide and move on.

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