Moses was 40 years old when he tried to lead Israel out of Egypt by the strength of his own arm. He failed, then ran from the anger of Pharaoh like a little girl. But who can blame him for trying? He was, after all, the only Israelite who lived in the palace under the protection of Pharaoh’s daughter: “I’m unique. I’m special. I was born for this.”
Moses at 40 was brash, confident, full of himself; the kind of leader who would stand on the deck of an aircraft carrier, look into the lens of a TV camera and say, “Mission accomplished.”
But Moses at 80 was a completely different man. In the book of Numbers we read, “Now the man Moses was very meek, the most humble man on the face of the whole earth.” Having lived 40 years as a shepherd on the backside of the desert, Moses had lost his hubris and developed a speech impediment.
Remember how many years the unbelieving Israelites had to wander in the desert before they became a completely different people? Bingo. 40 years.
That phrase – “40 years” – appears 25 times in the Bible and in virtually every instance it refers to a window of transformative change. Do we in fact become a different people every 40 years?
William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote a book about this 40-year phenomenon in 1991. Those authors never mention the Bible but focus instead on the historical record of Western society from 1584 to the present. That book, Generations, asserts that we go through a series of 4, approximately 20-year cycles or “generations” in a predictable order. (Think of a generation not as birth cohorts but as life cohorts. Everyone alive in a society is part of the same generation in that moment.)
Here’s how those 20-year cycles look when overlaid onto the story of Moses.
1. Idealist, marked by infatuation,
ending with full-of-himself Moses at 40,
“I’m special.” 1963-1983
2. Reactive, marked by disillusionment,
ending with Moses at 60 after 20 years in the desert,
“I’m searching for something better.” 1983-2003
3. Civic, marked by a power struggle,
ending with burning-bush/10 Plagues Moses at 80,
“I’m just a regular person trying to make it through the day.” 2003-2023 (and 1923-1943)
4. Adaptive, marked by reluctant acceptance,
ending with Israel-in-the-wilderness Moses at 100,
“I’m part of a team on a journey.” 2023-2043 (and 1943 to 1963) (In the middle of the last Adaptive cycle (1943-1963) a friend of Jack Kerouac, the poet John Clellon Holmes wrote, “You know, everyone I know is kind of furtive, kind of beat…” – Go, (1952) And from that Beat generation came the beatniks who inspired the idealist hippies of the 1960’s.)
When the cycle has gone full circle it returns to where it began:
ending with Moses at 120, full of himself again, striking the rock to bring water instead of speaking to it as God had instructed. 2043-2063
Please note that each of these 20-year cycles is attended by sparkle and darkness. None of them is inherently better than the others.
Society hungers for individuality and freedom during the upswing of an Idealist cycle. Nothing wrong with that. But we always take a good thing too far. What begins as a beautiful dream of self-discovery (1963) ends as hollow, phony posing (1983.) And from that shining disco of lights and glitter our hunger falls back, feather-like, toward what we left behind: working together for the common good.
But this beautiful dream of working together to build a better tomorrow slowly hardens into duty, obligation and sacrifice. We become bound by rules and the expectations of others.
And we grow weary.
Finally, we begin to move toward what we left behind: individuality and freedom of expression.
“If you look at the history of youth cultural movements, they tend to go one of two ways. One is in the direction of individual expression and creativity; the best example is the '60s. The other way is to lose themselves in the collective, binding themselves into a gang…” – Jaron Lanier
The declining Idealist pendulum reached the bottom of its arc in 2003, right on schedule. We’re now in our 7th year of a new Civic cycle, “losing ourselves in the collective, binding ourselves into a gang,” as the pendulum swings toward another Civic zenith in 2023.
On the sunny side of a Civic upswing are transparency, volunteerism and authenticity. But in the dark you’ll find smug self-righteousness, legalism and bureaucracy.
If history can be trusted as a guide, we’re now entering the time of a power struggle. Everywhere it will be “us” versus “them.” And both sides will believe they work purely for the common good. “God is clearly on OUR side.”
“You don’t care enough about global warming,
or free enterprise,
or civil liberties,
or the rights of the unborn,
or the downtrodden in Tibet.
You’re not committed to family values
and you don’t recycle.
You don’t support our troops.
Frankly, we’re disappointed in you.
You’re not doing your part.
The coming zealot will want to make sure you’re doing your part for the team. You’ll be interrogated, evaluated and castigated. When you have capitulated, you’ll be authenticated, approximated and appropriated. In the end you’ll be assimilated.
Or you can hide out at Wizard Academy. As society becomes more sharply divided, we’ll remain committed to the insanity of open-mindedness. We'll listen and hear and understand what both sides are trying to say. We'll see things no one else notices.
And we will use this knowledge to make a difference in our businesses and our communities.
Come to Wizard Academy.
You’re going to like it here.
We know how to make money
and we remember how to have fun.
Roy H. Williams
PS – If you were wondering where I got my info about Moses…