The commander on the ground makes the final decision: why older men and established communities think younger men and new comers are stupid, and haven’t a clue of what they are talking about.

In World War One but especially World War Two, one of the things the German army did that was revolutionary was that high command would make a mission with certain objectives and then assign this mission to a unit. The commander of the unit, the subordinate to the high command was then free to accomplish the mission in any way he felt necessary. The rationale was that the commander on the ground had superior tactical knowledge of a mission, and therefore was well equipped to make changes in the plan in response to the changing conditions on the ground. The high command accepted the fact that the best laid plans often fall apart, and the best way to work around that was to let the commander on the ground change the modus operandi to fit the current tactical situation instead of rigidly following a plan and guide lines set by higher-ups.

Other armies that were slow to adopt this line of thinking and operating had trouble reacting to the ever changing conditions of the battlefield. Commanders who were competent but did not always follow orders to accomplish missions often got court martialed and their careers stalled, hampering their ability to positively affect the war effort on their nation’s behalf. Commanders who were known for rigidly following rules often got their men killed when they could adapt to the ever changing tactics and strategy of the enemy.

Sometimes older men, jaded through experience, are quick to dismiss the ideas of younger men who seek their guidance because they feel like they know the answer already and that there is no other way to arrive at the same answer. Sometimes they dismiss the younger men as stupid for not seeing the answer like they do, because it is so blindingly obvious and “How can you not see what the answer is?”

Often the same issue is paralleled in established communities where newcomers are trying to break ground. One of the examples that most comes to my mind are scientific communities like the ones that revolve around physics or anthropology. Often they dismiss newcomers as too inexperienced to make any observation worth a damn, or just plain crazy.

Usually the issue is that the older party or established community, having so much knowledge and experience in store, comes to conclusions pretty fast. Just like a boxer who can perform his combos faster and faster due to practice or can recognize the moves his opponent is using, an older man or established organization uses all of their data points to come to conclusions and find answers pretty fast. Most of the time, this is a good thing. Sometimes, though, it prevents the older party or community from learning something new.

Maybe the kid actually has something worthwhile to say. Maybe the up and coming anthropologist’s new theory actually has a lot going for it. Of course nobody would know unless they stopped to think that maybe they don’t have all of the data points and maybe they might learn something. It certainly doesn’t hurt to listen to all of new idea’s arguments, if not only to be sure of its usefulness, as opposed to making a snap judgment. It is important to keep your mind open so that you do not discourage younger people or new comers from forming their own opinions and bringing them to you.

The worst case is that they’ll tell you you’re full of shit and take their ideas elsewhere and learn things the hard way.

My father, despite his abundance of experience, does not belittle any ideas or suggestions I make and does not answer any stupid questions of mine as if it were a burden to do so. Sometimes he may think he’s a little forceful in debate, but he’s usually good about acknowledging the fact and apologizing if he thinks he has gone too far (he’s never actually apologized, but I did catch him explaining how he was tired and therefore his method of debate was little less diplomatic than usual and that he was not mad at me). Consequently, I seek out his advice often and pay attention even when I think his answer is off the mark.


My brother on the other hand does not do the same. He has gained lots of experience like my father and has done relatively well for himself. However, his attitude is different when offering answers to questions or advice. While he’s nice enough over the phone or through email, in person, his arrogance is corrosive. Every now and then I ask him questions and he’ll oftentimes sigh as if he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Then he answers my questions as if I’m the stupidest person in the world for asking those questions. Or he’ll ask me to do so something for him and when I do it wrong or don’t understand what is asked of me, he’ll look at me as if I’m a retarded monkey capable of little more than eating bananas and slinging poop.

And then he’ll tell me how I’m stupid and am doing it wrong in a disappointed tone. This makes me dislike asking him questions. He just sounds like a prima donna douche bag who gets annoyed that he has to help me out or explain things to me. Sure he has more experience living life than I do, but not nearly enough like my Dad to warrant his attitude.

One time when I drove with him over 1,000 miles to keep him company on the way to see the birth of his first born son, I talked with him about a girl I was involved with. At the time I was started develop heavy feelings for her as she had already told me “I love you” plenty of times and I thought that maybe she might be sincere after all. My brother tore that idea apart with how it would end miserably because I wouldn’t see her for 18 months if I went to the service academy that I desired.

When I told him about how I made her make me a sandwich and blow me while I ate it because she was “being too much of a woman” he told me that I was abusing her. He thought I hated women. I was appalled. How could he say I was abusing her? It’s one thing if beat her and forced her to make the sandwich, but to come to that conclusion? Just like that? He didn’t even stop to be on my side for a minute because I’m his brother. Or congratulate me on it.

What? I hate women now?

The irony is that my brother once taught me that I should let what people say about or to me get to me. If some drunkard on the street told me, “I fucked your mom last night” I wouldn’t care. He doesn’t know me, or my mom, and probably didn’t fuck her. But to hear these sorts of comments from my brother blew me away. In ninth grade my brother once told me that I could ask him anything about girls, especially about how to have sex because he had no shame in discussing such matters and I was his little brother, dammit. Now the thought of asking my brother for any advice towards girls repulses me.

Later I learned that my brother acted the way he did as he was feeling guilty of some his own personal demons. I still don’t think he should have projected his bad behavior and morals regarding such on me but I largely forgive him for it. When I brought up the issue to my Dad, he explained to me that my brother had a hard time imagining that when I think of wrong answer, I come up with it, because at my age it makes sense and I don’t know any better. He will learn in time with his son that young people ask a ton of stupid questions, and he’ll mellow out on giving advice. I certainly hope so.

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