Needed: A Strong Dose of Middle-Age Common Sense

Those of us over 45 have 25 or more years of adult living experience. Seems like we must have picked up a generous dose of common sense along the way! Given this logic, why do we let our politicians in Washington confuse us with distorting soundbites while they continue to drive our country deeper and deeper into unsustainable federal debt? On the home front, why do 50% of all our marriages fail, including many that have been tested over many years? Wasn’t it our free choice to get married in the first place and wasn’t he or she the one we selected to be our true life partner? 

At middle age, every one of us should be prepared to balance our intellectual enthusiasm for political and philosophical arguments–be they liberal or conservative–with a hearty dose of common sense, including healthy respect for the understandings and best interests of those with a different opinion; a winning combination!  It’s not like our country’s top leaders are young millenials trying to learn the ropes. President Obama and Congressional leaders Boehner, McConnell and Pelosi all are bona fide Baby Bommers and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is 73! In addressing this nation’s budget problems, isn’t it time for the five of them, along with everyone else in Washington, to start acting their age?

Do those of us saving and investing for retirement (or already retired) have skin in the game? You bet we do! Would you like to be nearing retirement age or living on fixed income in Greece? Admittedly America is the “big dog” in the room and is not likely to suffer the severe immediate consequences of Greece. At some point along our current irresponsible path, paying out ever-expanding benefits, sustaining our debt load and accounting for massive unfunded future liabilities simply will become unsustainable! At that point, the value of a dollar is certain to plunge, inflation rage and our assumed “safe” retirement nest eggs won’t be enough to cover our expenses for even one year!

Like me, you probably feel rather helpless to bring common sense to Washington. After a bitter, highly partisan fall campaign with much heat and little light, we as a country rehired the same cast of characters who ran up $5 tillion in new debt over the past four years. Now we’re faced with a preposterous January 1, 2013 “fiscal cliff.” Isn’t this the precise antithesis of common sense? Does it make sense for two political parties to play “chicken” over a tax increase for 98% of all Americans which neither party says it wants?

The next Congressional election is two years away and that may be too late. Is there anything those of us demanding common-sense solutions can do now? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Understand what’s going on beyond the sound bites. Did you know that when President Obama says he wants to “reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years” what he really means is “we will increase our debt by $6 trillion instead of $10 trillion over the next ten years”?  Did you know that the government budgeting process has automatic annual spending increases built in so that when politicians talk about “cutting spending” they really mean “slowing the increase in spending”?
  • Educate your neighbors, especially the younger generations. Do they understand the seriousness of our debt crisis? Surveys show that a majority of those under 40 are more interested in the next “American Idol” winner than in solving America’s debt crisis. They fail to understand that unsustainable borrowing and spending will impact them and their children far more than it will those of us over 50. Who do they think is going to fund Medicare, Social Security and Obamacare as a giant wave of Baby Boomers grows older and retires?
  • Refuse absolutely to accept the premise that simply because they were elected, our nation’s leaders are more capable of solving America’s fiscal problems than the reat of us. You and I lead every day in our homes and in our businesses. All of us know that over time we can’t continue to spend more than we earn and that paying off one credit card by borrowing off another does not make sense. Through blogging, letters to politicians and media, call-ins to talk radio and conversations with family, co-workers, friends and neighbors, you can wisely promote the virtues of common sense budget restraint. You also can set an example by practicing common sense in your businesses, your personal life and in your little corner of the world.
  • Stop the shouting, bury your unrestrained partanship and reach out positively to those on the other side of any issue. None of us has a lock on all of the wisdom in the land. This doesn’t mean you need to abandon your principles but it does mean that you should consider potential wisdom and viability of another’s ideas. Personally, my goal is to turn off any talk radio program where the host asserts he or she is right “99 of the time.”   
  • Seek your own way to a joyful, fulfilling and bountiful life–don’t depend upon Uncle Sam. If you find a way to increase your income from $60,000 a year to $250,000, doing what you love and admire for a living, you’ll wind up far better off than before, even if the IRS takes 39% rather than 35% of your income in taxes.  So long as you’re not retired and are physically capable of earning a living, I’ll bet you won’t be happy and fulfilled sitting around your room waiting for a government “entitlement” check. If you can’t find work, volunteer!

Bottom line, we are never going to solve America’s debt crisis until a majority of citizens thouroughly understand the problem along with realistic options to solve it. Once understood, every one of us must be willing to sacrifice a little to contribute to a viable solution. We no longer can afford to pass the buck off to someone else (e.g., “millionaires and billionaires”) Hint: the US government wouldn’t be able to meet all present and future, funded and unfunded liabilities, even if it took away every penny of income from everyone earning $66,000 or more a year in annual income! Sounds like we could use a bit of entitlement reform, doesn’t it?

Let’s turn to midlife marriages. Here’s a switch: how about six “common-sense” tactics to resolve marital conflicts which more often than not make the problem worse or even destroy relationships:

  • Ask friends and family for advice. You know darn well that they are on your side, usually will hear only your version of the story and are the last people you should ask to offer objective advice.
  • Try to reason with your partner. This sounds good on the surface but never works if you think you know all the “right” answers in advance.
  • Promise your spouse that you will change. He or she knows you too well. How many times in the past have you made this same promise?
  • Hope or wish your relationship will survive and get better. It won’t unless both you and your spouse are 100% committed to real change.
  • Tell your spouse passionately that you love him/her. Using too much emotion may sound like you’re pleading for acceptance and doesn’t make you the positive, self-confident person your partner wants and needs. 
  • Suggest the two of you “work on” the relationship. If you two still love and respect one another genuinely, you naturally will want to share experiences and sacrifices–a good marriage will fall into place–no need to work on anything!

Here’s an obvious, common-sense fact of married life: over time, happiness quotients for two spouses in any sustainable marriage always settle to a common, positive level. Unless I am a total, self-delusional fool, there is no way I can remain happy and fulfilled over time if my wife is unfulfilled and misearable. Even the most loving, caring and concerned spouse has every right to expect love and concern in return. Here’s a second common-sense obseravation: over the long haul, no spouse, man or woman, will  want to remain married to a chronic complainer, one who passes the blame, feels inadequate and unfulfilled but is unwilling to make any effort to change.

Here’s one final bit of common sense from none other than Jesus Christ: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” In this case, substitute the word “husband” or “wife” for the word “neighbor.” First (perhaps with your spouse’s or husband’s help–nothing wrong with that), set your own life on a path to happiness, self-confidence and self-fulfillment. Without your own positive direction, you will never find the capacity inside to give real, compassionate and self-sacrificing love to another. Once you truly feel good about yourself and where you’re headed, your love and positive emotions will flow outward and engulf others naturally.

To learn more, tune in to the December 10, 2012 “common sense” installment of our popular Internet radio program, “Middle Age Can Be Your Best Age” on Guest authours David P. McMullin and Radomir Samardzic suggest common-sense approaches solving to our nation’s challenges and resolving conflicts in our midlife marriages.  

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