Foresight Conquers Fear of the Future: Today's Youth Are Growing Up in the Midst of Radical Social and Economics Transformations. Now Is the Time to Develop the Most Critical Skill for Effectively Managing Their Careers and Personal Lives: Foresight

By Cornish, Edward | The Futurist, January-February 2010 | Go to article overview

Foresight Conquers Fear of the Future: Today's Youth Are Growing Up in the Midst of Radical Social and Economics Transformations. Now Is the Time to Develop the Most Critical Skill for Effectively Managing Their Careers and Personal Lives: Foresight


Cornish, Edward, The Futurist


"I'm scared," the young man confessed. "I'm starting my eighteenth year in a world that makes no sense to me. All I know is that this world I'm living in is a shambles and I don't know how to put it together."

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The young man bared his soul to an invisible audience during a radio call-in show. Other callers agreed with his dismal assessment of the state of the world. Nobody offered an answer for his fears.

Bill Moyers, the TV interviewer, happened to be listening that night and was profoundly affected by what he heard.

"Such lamentations," Moyers commented later, "are deep currents running throughout the liberal West today. Our secular and scientific societies are besieged by violence, moral anarchy, and purposelessness that have displaced any mobilizing vision of the future except hedonism and consumerism."

Moyers put his finger on what may be a key challenge faced by many young people today: their inability to think realistically, creatively, and hopefully about the future. Instead, these young people suffer from what can be described as " futurephobia."

Some futurephobes have an acute version of this malady, like the young man described by Moyers, but most futurephobes simply focus on their immediate circumstances and drift into the future without thinking much about it at all. Either way, they may drift into financial or other kinds of trouble.

The connection between poor foresight and serious problems is widely recognized by psychologists and sociologists. Yale sociologist Wendell Bell asserts that some authorities "go so far as to claim that all forms of deviant, criminal, and reckless behavior have the same fundamental cause: the tendency to pursue immediate benefits without concern for long-term costs, a disregard for inevitable and undesirable future consequences."

Successful self-management, says Bell, requires understanding and giving appropriate value to the likely consequences of your actions. If you have little or no foresight, you cannot think realistically and creatively about your future, so you cannot steer your career and personal life toward long-term success.

Poor foresight can threaten not just the careers of emerging adults, but even their lives. Young people lacking foresight are prone to act reck-lessly--drive too fast, use drugs, play with guns, commit crimes, and even kill themselves (or others).

On the other hand, when young people do manage to develop good foresight, they can think realistically, creatively, and hopefully about the future. So empowered, they can aim their careers toward achievable goals and cheerfully accept the burdens of responsibility and self-discipline required for success. Barack Obama is a recent example of foresight-empowered success.

THE NEW URGENCY OF FORESIGHT

Older people are prone to dismiss the problems of youth as just a normal part of growing up, but the fact is that today's youth are coming of age in a world undergoing an unprecedented transformation powered by multiple technological revolutions. These technological advances, all occurring simultaneously, are overturning the world's economies and undermining long-established institutions, careers, and lifestyles.

Amid such turbulence, making a good decision concerning one's career or private life can be highly problematic, and the demographic group most acutely affected are young people moving into adulthood. These emerging adults have entered a time of life when parents and teachers have diminished power to guide them, so young people must make critical decisions by themselves at a time when their experience of the world is limited and their brains are still immature. (Foresight, scientists say, is largely a function of the brain's prefrontal cortex, which does not reach maturity until about age 25. …

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