The Unwritten Rules stuff — and almost everything else to do with baseball, actually — lends itself to old timers talking about how things were different back in their day and how the younger generation is softer and coddled. It’s amazing that the world hasn’t gotten there yet, but to hear some people talk it’s been heading to Hell in a hand basket for several generations in a row.
Against that backdrop, Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked yesterday about how people need to just drop that nonsense:
“I’ve really thought a lot about this obviously because I’ve always been attacked for new methods. And I try to think about it and my conclusion is every 20-25 years the group that shows up then is viewed as being less tough, less macho than the group that existed 20-25 years before that … and that group has to understand the group before that thought those guys weren’t so tough.
“So it’s just the way the world evolves. One thing I do is pray for perspective. I did grow up in the ’60s and ’70s and we didn’t like the establishment at all. We hated it, or we didn’t believe in it all. And then you move the dial forward 30 years, and all of sudden the same dudes I grew up with are acting like the same people they didn’t like 30 years ago. That bums me out.
Yup. And even those most aware of this dynamic fall prey to it. Even Joe Maddon himself has trafficked in generational politics from time to time in some pretty inconsistent ways. Maybe this is a situation where he takes issue with some specific young person stuff in the moment even if he is generally trying to be more open about it. He wouldn’t be the first older guy to struggle with these things.
The impulse to think less of the generation which follows you is unfortunate, but it’s understandable. It’s way bigger than baseball, of course, as we see it play out in virtually every walk of life. Not to be overly dramatic about things, but I think it’s wrapped up in feelings of mortality and efforts to maintain a claim on youth and relevance just as one begins to feel like they no longer have either. It can be sobering and maybe even scary when you see your “replacement” come online. It makes you start to realize that the world will continue to function just fine without you occupying a prominent position in it. It makes you start to realize that, eventually, the world will continue to function without you in the world at all.
So what do most people do? They make an extra effort to assert their relevance. If they can’t do it directly by continuing to occupy their old position of prominence, they do the next best thing: they tell a story about how things aren’t as good now as they were when they did occupy that position. They blast the younger generation as inferior or entitled and less worthy of their station as they were. Taken to extremes it leads them to not just disparage the younger generation but to blame them for everything they can think of that is wrong.
We don’t have to do this. The art of aging gracefully is not in defying the process but in living ones’ life so that obsolescence is irrelevant. To always live the life you have to the best of your ability and to not try to live the life you used to have. And to realize that just because someone else is now living the life you used to have doesn’t mean you never lived it. In baseball that may mean that a former player should be able to remember his own career fondly without having to disparage those who are still active. To find one’s self worth in being the best manager or coach or broadcaster or retired guy doing something completely different that he can be instead of defining his self-worth by what he did between the ages of 18 and 37 or whatever and to blast the younger generation as a means of doing so. This applies to all of us, of course, not just athletes.
It’s insanely hard to do. Our culture venerates youth and collectively fears aging so much that the concept of living one’s life in the present instead of as some eternally young person is not something we talk about much let alone work on. Our addiction to nostalgia makes it even harder. So too do the aches and pains and health problems we experience as we get older. There are so many forces at work — good memories, bad impulses and physical things with which we can’t negotiate — telling us that all that matters was what happened when we were young. Getting past that is very, very hard. Most people don’t manage it well, I think.
But we should try to. We should try to live our lives in the present and to look to the future, not dwell on the past. We don’t get much time here as it is. Why limit our conscious appreciation of life to only the first 30-40 years of it?