The World’s Having a Male Midlife Crisis

If I didn’t know better (but I’m not sure that I do), I’d say the world was having a midlife crisis. Whether it’s about half-way through it’s life span, I don’t know; but I do think that it’s behaving just like a middle-aged guy. As I read my morning Washington Post today – with one eye on my midlife projects – I couldn’t help noticing the parallels and similarities between the factors that I’m dealing with in my midlife programs and what’s happening across the globe. Two of the three principal cauimages (1) ses of midlife crisis (denial, blame, and isolation) are at work. Just see how long the ‘experts’ had been shouting down those warning voices that were predicting trouble ahead. Notice how, now that the bubbles are bursting all over the world, the finger-pointing is in full bloom.

Only isolation seems (at least on the surface) to be missing, because, regardless of their political convictions, even the most diverse members of the international community have put aside their philosophical differences to wallow in the distractions of rabid credit-fed consumerism. We now live in a global community (vive free trade!), so there’s no pretending we’re on our own anymore. When my house is in foreclosure, your property value goes down. And yet, if I dig a little deeper, I wonder whether we’re really such an interconnected global community after all. Certainly, our fortunes are inextricably linked one to another (nothing could be more evident than that we stand or fall together), and yet our life-defining decisions are still being made with a sort of reckless disregard for the consequences to our fellows. Only the world’s fundamentalists are maintaining their doctrinal purity – but talk about reckless disregard for the consequences!

I think that all of us are just standing here feeling stunned, confused and powerless as we watch the interplay of never-before unleashed political and economic forces swirl around us. I have noticed one fact, though: these forces that are wreaking havoc on a global scale are so incredibly male! In our (unsuccessful) preoccupation with creating a hermaphrodite society, where we’ve tried to plaster over the core differences between masculinity and femininity, we may have lost some of our appreciation for the vast differences in cultural approach to decision-making that characterize the two sexes. The masculine culture is predominantly competitive, while the feminine culture is essentially cooperative.

Now take a look at what passes for political discourse these days. Despite all the rhetoric about “reaching across the aisle”, changing “politics as usual”, and ushering in a new era of bipartisan cooperation, at every level on the US political scene, we see only a desperate, testosterone-charged, hyper-competitive adolescent food fight masquerading as dialogue. Talk about isolation! I don’t see any attempt whatever to build a cooperative consensus about the desperate problems that are threatening to lay us low. All I hear is shouting back and forth about who’s wrong, and who did what to whom and when. Doesn’t it sometimes feel like we’re silent guests at a booze-charged cocktail party where some desperately unhappy middle-aged couple has decided to take off the gloves in public and let each other have it?

I think that you and I can learn some serious lessons about how not to manage a midlife transition by observing carefully the scenario playing itself out on the world’s stage. First of all, when things seem to be going well, don’t assume that you’re on the right track. It’s entirely too easy to become distracted by the rush of apparent success when you’ve got little warning voices going off in the back of your head. You’ve heard often enough the aphorism, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” It’s not just banks and big corporations that thoroughly enjoyed the bubble: so did you and I. Nothing says ‘midlife crisis’ quidcte so loudly as the little red Corvette (or the SUV or the McMansion) on your property. You were taught about living within your means, your better judgment may even have been slightly uneasy, but did you listen? Noooooo!

That takes care of denial and using various extravagances to medicate feelings of dis-ease. Next, when things take a turn for the worse, it doesn’t do anybody any good to look outside of yourself for the blame. Sure, you can clearly see what other people did wrong (hindsight is always 20/20, especially when you’re not involved), but that doesn’t really matter at all, does it? Remember what your mother told you? “If everybody’s jumping off a bridge, it doesn’t mean that you have to do it, too!” So long as you’re looking for people to blame for your financial difficulties – or your unhappiness – you’re playing the victim. And when you assume the role of victim, you find yourself stuck like the characters in Jean-Paul Sartre’s play, No Exit (Huis Clos) where then, as now, “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (“Hell is other people”). The one good thing about playing the victim in midlife, 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’s the piece about isolation. This one is incredibly difficult for the American male to deal with, because we guys are doubly culturally crippled. As I’ve already mentioned, we have the universal male cultural orientation that tells us that to be ‘real men’, we need 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 into submission (using any means at your disposal), then you’re the winner – regardless of whether it really makes any sense in the long run or not. It’s all about how it’s done.

The second fist of this one-two punch that can knock males right into a midlife crisis is that the US leads the world in rugged individualism. We find it very difficult to understand Asian or Latin cultures where they live by a communitarian ideal. Culturally, they put family, community, and country first. We talk about it, but that’s not the way we think or the way we live. Think about it: when was the last time anyone in your family turned down an invitation because dinner at home with the family was a primary obligation? That’s right; it never happens. It’s all about you: your needs, your wants, your interests, your obligation. Isn’t the American ideal the self-made man? Isn’t it all about your property: your room, your TV, your dog, your privacy? We’ve even enshrined the right to privacy in our interpretation of our Constitution. I’m not suggesting that this is wrong, I’m only saying it defines ‘us‘ as a cultural entity.

Overcoming our particular acculturation as American males can be particularly difficult. It requires the humility to admit that you’ve been wrong, that you don’t have all the answers, that you aren’t perfect, that you can’t do everything, and that you need help. That’s not to suggest that accepting those facts makes you any less a man. In fact, the opposite is true. The Machismo that suggests that you’re a superman is really only a caricature of masculinity. Yet, until you become willing to get over your cultural bias and learn cooperative communication (where your ego is in your back pocket), you’re going to find the midlife transition a very hard road to travel. The other factor that you need to consider is the consequences. Just as you’re being carried along over the financial edge by the juggernaut of the global economic meltdown, you can just as readily be swept over the edge by your personal midlife crisis, watching your family, your career and your own self-esteem dissolve in the process. Guys, you’ve got your work cut out for you!

H. Les Brown, MA, CFCC
ProActivation® Coaching
Website: http://www.MidlifeMaster.com
E-Mail: info@ProActivation.com

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Copyright © 2008 H. Les Brown

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