Book Summaries Psychology

Law 17: Seize the Historical Moment (The Laws of Human Nature)

The Law of Generational Myopia

No person can completely isolate themselves from their generational influences. The generation you belong will influence the way you think. If you are unaware of this, you may be caught by surprise.

When Louis XVI took the throne, he assumed that old systems would remain the same but he was wrong, he failed to see how conditions were rapidly changing. France’s financial woes were increasing and there was unrest in the streets. A revolution was imminent. But King Louis reacted too late, trying to pass reforms after the damage had been done, and meeting considerable opposition from the aristocrats and clergy.

The Four Generations

Ibn Khaldun noted that human beings pass through generational patterns – specifically four. The first-generation revolts against the old order, and brings fresh, new ideas. The second generation, having been part of the generation that saw change, wants to establish some form of order. Then the third generation appears, they are more pragmatic and less connected with the past. They are interested less in ideas and more in building things. People become materialistic and individualistic during this phase. The fourth generation comes along and senses that society has lost its vitality – that its values are wrong. People have become too cynical, and this lays the foundation for the revolutionary generation to disrupt the status quo. And the cycle repeats.

An important point to consider is that this is necessary to some extent. That is, change is necessary. If each generation mimicked the previous generation’s spirit, civilization would disintegrate. Imagine every generation was revolutionary, or every generation was skeptical and disenchanted.

The Reality of Change

In your own life, if you can recall a memory that is older than 20 years, you can sense that times were different. The spirit, the color and the architecture, the clothes and the fashion tastes, and even the celebrity icons. Each generation has its own spirit, and you can sense that this spirit is constantly changing.

The trick is to know how to take advantage of this change and not to be a victim of it the way King Louis was.

If we apply the generational hypothesis to our own times, by starting with the silent generation that experienced the Great Depression and the World War as children, we notice that they were cautious, embodying a materialistic spirit that embraces order and stability.

The baby boomers, who grew up in the 60’s saw their parents as being too conservative. They became more open, idealistic, and adventurous. Then came Generation X, they were recovering from the chaos of the 70’s with its political scandals and controversies. This generation rebelled against their parent’s idealism and controversy, seeing the holes in their philosophy, they embraced individualistic values and self-reliance. Then the Millennials emerged, distrustful of the individualism of the past after witnessing the terrorism that took place in 9/11 and the financial disaster of 2008, and valued security and teamwork more.

Each generation reacts to the mistakes of the previous, but you will notice that this way of thinking has many limitations.

Be careful, do not be too much a product of your generation, this will limit your thinking. Instead, try to see history from a wider lens. Understand the general patterns. By learning about your generation’s thinking style, you can know the ways in which you are biased.

Take a step back and create some distance. In this way, you can foresee the trends of the future more clearly.  As we age, we develop the ability to create more emotional distance between events and ourselves. If you do it earlier, you can achieve premature wisdom. At the same time, maintain your child-like curiosity about the world. Never let yourself be swallowed by a fixed way of thinking because the only defense you have in a world that is constantly changing is adaptability.

Read The Laws of Human Nature

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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