We are well into the New Year and the old one is firmly behind us, even if it is only three days. It is customary at this time for most people to review the year just ended, in terms of major happenings, and predict what the one that has just begun will bring. Every year we go through this same cycle of past experience and projected expectations.
I want to break from tradition and rather reflect on what the passage of time means to individuals and how it affects their achievements.
How often have you heard this: ‘time flies’, ‘time stands still’ or ‘time lasts an eternity’ in reference to the passage of time? Many times I am sure, and what you say usually corresponds to how old you are and largely reflects our different attitudes, expectations and hopes.
When you are a child, time seems to stand still, last an eternity. The days, weeks, months and years seem to drag on indefinitely. Perhaps it is because at that stage you don’t have much to do, or think about and so do not have much to fill your time or to worry you. So time appears interminable.
Then youth sets in. There is a burst of energy. You become impatient. You want to move fast and do things that only older people can do or are permitted to do. You want to go to school, learn all the things that there are, finish school and take on the world. Everything around you seems slow and an impediment to your rush to get wherever you want to go, although still undefined. And so you tend to want to brush aside all these obstacles and move on.
These are all reasonable expectations, of course, but you want to achieve them in one go.
This state has often been called, sometimes dismissively, the impatience of youth. But it is more than that, and is certainly not all negative. It spells a positive attitude, a mindset, a can-do mentality that sometimes older people don’t understand, or if they do, are unwilling to accept.
At this stage, you are more daring, less cautious perhaps, but with tremendous confidence in your own abilities. You have the energy and drive to do a lot of things.
But you find you can’t do as you wish. You hit a wall of veterans who tell you to slow down – not in so many words – but still make you realise that that sort of pace is dangerous. You are seen as reckless, and not reflective or deliberative enough.
You are told about rules and procedures and protocol that must be respected. There are rigid hierarchies that block your way and soon you find all your sharp intelligence blunted, your energy turned into lethargy and fall into the routine of how things have always been done.
The realisation of the limits placed around you can be very frustrating and time does not move at the same pace as your energy and urgency demand.
As you get older, time seems to fly by. It is New Year and before long it is the end of year. Anxiety follows. You worry about things undone and yet the time to do them is fast slipping away. You think of opportunities lost that cannot be regained. The balance sheet of your life’s work is being drawn and somehow it does not balance. More angst sets in.
You wish you could slow the passage of time, even stop it altogether. But that is a secret still hidden from humankind.
This is a typical example of generational differences that derive from how each generation relates to the passage of time and the attitudes that arise from it.
The young see the future as a wide and open avenue full of possibilities. They don’t have a past cluttered with memories to colour their vision of the future. Experience of new things, even when it is only a possibility, sharpens the desire to create conditions that permit it. This explains their eagerness, optimism and faith in their abilities to take on the world and change it.
Older people, on the other hand, carry a baggage of memories, usually called experience, from the past that can blur their view of the future. They soon realise that the open future they once had ahead of them is quickly coming to an end, and they see obstacles and limitations on the way, which is why they are usually cautious.
Or some think that they have already arrived at that future and see no need for urgency.
These generational characteristics relating to time are as much about individuals as they are about states.
Societies that find ways to bridge these differences and harness this youthful energy, boldness and innovative spirit, and channel it all to productive work have an edge over others. Those that find the right balance between the impatience of youth and the experience of age move well ahead of others.
We seem to be finding a way to do this in Rwanda. We are progressively getting young people into positions of responsibility alongside those that you may call veterans. The blend of exuberance and experience, boldness and caution, enthusiasm and deliberateness creates conditions for faster movement.
Of course time continues to pass and our differing attitudes to its passage remain, but with fewer regrets and a little more satisfaction. We still want to pack in as much as possible, which is why retaining a youthful attitude, even if it is only by association, is very useful.
Happy New Year.