17 February 2004

Is it better to be young or to be experienced?

Is it better to be young or to be experienced?

Have you noticed how the question puts 'young' first and 'experience' second? This should be, at the very least, indicative of what the answer ought to be.

However, as all baby boomers know, youth and experience are not necessarily incompatible. In fact, we don't know how it could have been otherwise, but maybe that's prejudice talking.

Let's look at youth. No doubt this is the best time to learn and acquire knowledge. A time when one is carefree and audacious. It is a pity that some of us don't always realise this at the time especially when we're having fun doing other things.

In a way youth is a transition time both metaphorically and biologically. In the latter sense, the young person is coming into full biological function. The bits and pieces do not have any signs of wear and tear on them, they have low mileage and everything is practically solid and shiny.

This makes the young man or woman ideal for hard slog studying, excel in physical sports, have children, have endless hours of fun, enjoy the challenge of dare and do, go into apprenticeship, be ordered into battle, binge drinking and drug abuse. Maybe the fast lane is not always the best lane to be; but it could be fun anyway.

Metaphorically, youth is a transition period between the coming into existence and the state of metaphysical being. The metaphysical being of experience, knowledge, self awareness, social being and one of the movers and shakers in town. An equilibrium point on a demand and supply graph where 'existence' is going down and 'being' is going up. A transition point from: growing up from nothing (infancy and early teens); the discovery of what the mind and body can do, but not necessarily in coordination (youth); the ability to coordinating mind and body, but who cares anyway (baby boomers); who cares any way (probably, members of a gentlemen's club; the women are busy watching the Full Monty!)

There are certainly two things that make youth attractive: ignorance is bliss and can do, will do attitude. This means that the young will go where even baby boomers fear to tread. We are of course reminded by Machiavelli, that young men are less cautious, more aggressive and audacious. I wonder what he would have said if he knew that even women can equally be a good sport. If you ask me, he was keeping it a secret!

Maybe this is the glitter version of youth, but as we know: all that glitters is not gold. For some, youth means hardship or even death because of wars. A period in some people's lives, that is used and abused by the unscrupulous in hard labour or even slavery. Youth is also a formative time where one mistake can have a devastating effect for the rest of one's life. Youth is not without its dangers; it is not without its drawbacks. And for some youth means being foisted with responsibilities which others will never have to shoulder in their life.

Experience gives us a perspective in life and on life. Having a yardstick, or a benchmark, to use modern business speak, gives us a reference point. We know where we've been and certainly know where we want to go. This sounds good on paper, or digitally if you must, but reality is not always that simple.

Take Hume's problem about induction, although many people wrote about this. There is no reason to assume that the future will be like the past. In other words, we cannot derive an ought from an is. Yesterday's solution is not necessarily today's panacea. Yesterday's mesmerising chat up line is not necessarily today's heart throb song.

Experience can easily be misinterpreted to mean being positive. This can in many ways lead to a form of gambler's paradox. We find many examples in business where companies stick to old policies and practices in the face of changing markets and consumer sophistication. The paradox kicks in because these people believe that if they put a little bit more elbow grease they'll hit the jackpot. But reality thinks differently; the market has moved on. The fact that we did not win yesterday does not mean we stand a good chance our number will come up today. And if we did win yesterday there is no logical reason why we should also win today.

Having experience can also mean having gone through some form of baptism of fire. By definition this ought to be laudable and praiseworthy, and in many cases this is what we have to conclude. But in many others there is something seriously missing. The absence of humility and candour can easily lead to smugness.

But experience does cut through the thicket of white noise and irrelevance in life. How comforting it is to know what to do in a situation once you've done it before. Take the daunting task of air travel. Once you've had a few experiences of the harrowing task of looking for that lost luggage you'll know what to do. No, I don't mean panic, but kicking up a stink and making an unbearable fuss. Here experience does come into it's own. Of course, your luggage will still be found twenty four hours later, or maybe not, but you feel better for it.

The assumptions we make are that experience comes with age and that the young are devoid of useful experience. A third assumption is that all experience is useful experience.

Does quantity imply quality? And what do we mean by quality experience anyway? Experience in what, doing what, having done what? It is obvious that even the young can have quality type experiences and in some cases they are also ahead of us in quantity.

So far the situation seems to be that youth is not without its drawbacks nor is it a promise of things to come. However, being young does not mean not having quality or quantity experience. Surely, how we feel tells us more about how young we are than simply age? I was wondering whether that 'how' should be a 'what.'

Experience, by and of itself does not necessarily get us anywhere. So where is the goldilocks effect? Where is, the balance between too much and too little experience and/or youth?

It is safe to say that there is a one-to-one relationship between age and quantity of experience. However, how do we move from quality and quantity experience to experience being useful?

Although technically this is an interesting question what matters is that some experiences are just worth having for their own sake. From this point of view, at least, it is by far much better to have experience. And if that wasn't enough, age does not come into it. We can have good experiences irrespective of our age. (I'm thinking of this great restaurant up north in Spain as I write this.)

All of a sudden it's beginning to look good for baby boomers; it gets even better!

Here clearly is a case where experience seems to win hands down. Maximising our good experiences must certainly be a good policy. Riding the crest of the good-experience wave must be much better than having the potential of riding such a crest. This is clearly a case were the journey is an interference with quality time.

Therefore, it seems to me that being young or being experienced is not necessarily a good measure of anything. But then again, we've always known that size is not everything.

Take Care


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