The second half of life transforms our understanding in ways that can transform our world.
For example, when guest Rachel Maddow tried to dig into the "fundamental disagreement about the facts" between Democrat's and the GOP's view on women's economic issues, it could have been an opportunity for host David Gregory to add, "Might both arguments be true?" We, the audience, could have discovered how the issue is far more complex than the simplistic explanations offered by the propagandists. But it wasn't understanding that increased, just the volume from each side spouting its pre-planned comments and incomplete solutions.
The demise of what I (and many others) valued in "Meet the Press" is symptomatic of a larger trend in our society: an increasing polarization that is causing more harm than good. The problem has been described very well by Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rohr has a terrific new book called, "Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life" (Jossey-Bass, 2011).
"Nothing is going to change in history as long as most people are merely dualistic, either-or thinkers. Such splitting and denying leaves us at the level of mere information, data, facts and endlessly arguing about the same, 'My facts are better than your facts,' as we yell at ever higher volume and with ever stronger ego attachment," Rohr wisely writes.
It need not be this way. The first half of life, Rohr argues, is full of ego, persona and black-white judgmental thinking. Some people remain stuck here all their lives. Others enter the second half of life by experiencing a significant failure of some type. If we are open to learning, we're then resurrected by accepting our whole self, warts and all. In so doing, we can truly love and initiate what our soul – i.e., our original blue print and our deepest meaning – calls us to do. In the second half of life we see the whole truth – multiple sides of arguments and the joy and tragedy in each moment of life.
As the baby boom ages, more of us will be entering the second half of life and searching for deeper meaning. At the same time, new information technology will aid our search for deeper understanding in all aspects of our lives: personal, professional and political. Information technology both creates new data and makes it accessible, shedding light into the numerous black boxes that define "how things get done." Concurrently, social media is giving us far more opportunity to share information and increase influence.
The light of transparency and use of social media will democratize and transform industries by dramatically changing access, as Mark McDonald noted in a recent WTN blog. For example, the Internet and then Amazon created consumer access to brands beyond what local stores offered, transforming retail markets. Rob McCray, CEO of the Wireless Life Sciences Alliance, reminded me how Napstar and M3 players made the entire world of music available to everyone. In the process, how music got delivered changed dramatically – from albums to singles, with less control by music studios and more control by musicians who can reach consumers directly through websites, YouTube, etc.
Healthcare will be transformed as we learn more about which providers offer the most value and which preventative practices create better health. Consumer brands will be transformed as we learn more about egregious and laudable behavior on the part of different companies and, through social media, false brand promises. Voting may even be transformed as we figure out ways to gain more access into who is behind what money and ads. Alternatively, citizen-ballot direct-democracy initiatives like those in Colorado may grow, reducing politicians' power. Imagine if simple-to-use tools could help us mine government data and better understand fiscal issues freed of political parties' slants.
I expect the data created by new access will be messy – and not just from a data management sense. The data will both contrast with and support our a priori assumptions about how things really work. This is good.
Whole people – those in the second half of their lives – are the unifiers, the "yes-and" people who make ideas better. They are the ones who create a better world, not just criticize this one, according to Rohr. Our political institutions, communities and businesses need them. Become one if life's journey has not made you one already.
Kay Plantes is an MIT-trained economist, business strategy consultant, columnist and author. Business model innovation, strategic leadership and smart economic policies are her professional passions. She was an economic advisor for former Wisconsin Gov. Lee Dreyfus.