My intellectual and emotional maturity came about through reluctantly paying dues that someone else imposed as a standard. I was and still am a rebel. Paying dues is a concept that has different meanings to different people, but the dominant context is that no one can reach a level of excellence in their careers without following exactly in the footprints of those who went before them. Hogwash! Rebels with a cause can produce miraculous results that outshine their predecessors and make the world a better place. My generation proved that concept over and over again and I hear more recent generations clamoring to be set free from the stereotypical path of dues-paying. Yet there remains a general attitude among those who invisibly set standards that everyone must pay dues before becoming believable as leaders.
The controversy is not over whether or not there is some element of experience necessary to be a contributor but over some rite of passage that requires an initiation into the fraternity of life. The secret is that there is no secret handshake used by life-members that identifies them as someone who has passed the test. There are some basic rules to being believable and serious consequences of ignoring them.
1. Simply being rebellious does not contribute anything. In fact, there is a fine line between being a noisy distracting nuisance and broadcasting a message of importance. If the message is worth hearing there is a way to identify the target audience, learn the way they listen and learn, and communicate on the same frequency rather than sending annoying static. That methodology will be different for each message and audience, so the real skill is learning how to communicate effectively. This is not dues-paying. It is simply common sense and it works both ways.
2. Logical processes will override emotional rhetoric anytime. When I hear stereotypical tirades against the older generations being people who don’t get it, I have learned not to result in emotional retaliation and usually dismiss this as uninformed, egotistical and childish gibberish. The reverse of this is equally true and earlier generations are not immune from failure to communicate. If there is a real message to be heard it will probably be lost to the masses of people who should hear it because it is devoid of logical thinking. I suspect that there is an element of our young society that is doing more harm than good by proving that some dues-paying may be necessary to grow up. There is also fault on the part of their elders who prove through their ignorance or stupidity that dues-paying doesn’t really matter.
3. The art of listening is not a natural instinct. Listening intently does not mean to open the ears to the voices of others but to open the brain to the total environment of a concept. True understanding is not only hearing the ideas of others. It means putting on new ideas and wearing them to see how they fit. Making alterations to that fit is not plagiarism. It is enhancing the look and feel of the original idea and giving it back in an improved state. Dues-paying by definition does not require listening and will only produce clones in a society that is in desperate need for originality and innovation. Following in the footsteps of others only sets the general direction to follow and deviation from the path is not only acceptable it is essential.
4. The value of experience cannot be discounted. There is no better teacher than learning through hands-on experience. Experience does not replace formal education and training, but it does enhance it. Experience does not create innovative ideas, but it does give them a stronger foundation on which to build. Trusting experience as a necessary part of intellectual growth is not giving in to paying dues without reason. Every individual new thought or idea is probably not original. Knowing the mistakes made by others can prevent repeating them and causing a catastrophic collapse of a good idea. We drive gasoline powered cars today partially because Robert Fulton invented a steam powered boat in the late 1700’s. There is a direct correlation between the past and things that are to come. The future is already in the minds of the inventors.
5. Stereotypical bucketing is a trap that stifles thinking. There is something about the human brain that makes us look for the easiest way to understand an event, concept or person. Compartmentalizing things into easy to see buckets can be a good start to understanding a complex thought process, but if it stops there it will reinforce stereotypes and make vision into other alternatives hard to find. Thinking outside of the bucket is necessary for big picture vision. Irony is stereotyping other people in such a way that it perpetuates the stereotype of the stereotyper. A generational cohort that underestimates taking the necessary steps to reach intellectual maturity will probably perceived as immature. Underestimating the value of an idea because it originated from a younger generation is a waste of a talented resource and this type of thinking oozes of obsolescence.
Experience may be the great teacher, but experience without learning is wasted time regardless of the age of the learner. Failing to learn from experience is a speed bump on the road to successful growth. When we stop learning and begin to rely on our past experience as the essence of who we are it is a signal that we are choosing not to grow further. At some point age is less relevant in determining individual ability. The difference between a 2-year old and a 22-year old person is stark due to physical and intellectual capabilities. Those differences melt with years so that the difference between a 22-year old and a 42-year old…or a 62-year old person…is a matter of how we actively choose to use our intellect rather than our capability to use it.
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