When Old Guys Tell Young Guys What To Do …

December 01, 2010 3 min read

There is something to wisdom – and probably some very good reasons for old people to be in charge and expound on their hard-earned age-old learning. But sometimes we old guys are just wrong. 

A bunch of old guys in the US Senate right now are trying to block a change in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy with that same age-old wisdom.   (I use the term “guys” advisedly: all the female US Senators have, at some point, said they support a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell)  John McCain, my home state Senator, tells us that he’s been in combat situations and knows that it can’t be good to have a gay guy or gal running around in the ranks.  We should always honor Senator McCain’s service and his sacrifice to our country.  But the world, this country, and the military have moved on, and he hasn’t moved with them.

A few years ago, Mitchell Wade and I (both old guys) decided to research what effects video-gaming experience — in childhood — was having on people once they were adults, ensconced in business careers.  We expected that they would take more risks, give up easier (“hit the reset button”), and be less sociable (engrossed in the computer screen in front of them to the detriment of human relations).  We really did expect more negative consequences than positive.  Neither one of us is a gamer nor had we grown up around gamers.  And we couldn’t understand how our children were so involved in games that to us seemed…. well… mindless.    After a couple of years of conducting surveys and interviewing hundreds of people, we had to eat some humble pie and admit that we old guys didn’t understand the culture of people who had grown up on video games.  All of our evidence, published in our book, The Kids are Alright, suggested that they were actually better at business than those who didn’t grow up on video games – better decision-makers, better leaders, more sociable, more realistic about the role of risk and luck in business.  Better all around.

If we had just stuck to our own experiences and written the book from our dated point of view, we would have been dead wrong.

Now it is time for our Senators to realize, especially in light of the recent survey of military personnel, that their view of the day-to-day culture of the military may be a few decades old at this point.  John McCain didn’t grow up watching Will and Grace or Ellen (in fact, he didn’t grow up watching television at all), he didn’t see movies with gay cowboys or gay hitmen and he didn’t go to schools where there were openly gay teachers or high school jocks.  And, he didn’t serve in a military where he assumed that some of the people in his close-knit unit were gay. In a survey released today, almost 70% of our current military personnel say they have served with someone who is gay, and 92% of those said there was no negative effect from being on the front line or in the barracks with them.

It is time for the old guys to admit that they just don’t understand a world where gays and lesbians get to be people too.  I admit I don’t understand Gamer culture.  Mr. McCain and others, it is time to admit you don’t understand the culture of our young folks in the military who put themselves and their lives on the line everyday… time to move over and let the next generation decide.