Formidable or forgettable 40s? It's the middle-aged who have the real power

Never mind the shouty millennials or know-it-all septuagenarians. It's time us 40-somethings had a voice

epa07859322 Sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg (2-R) speaks as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (3-L) and other young climate activist listen at the start of the United Nations Youth Climate Summit which is taking place in advance of the General Debate of the General Assembly of the United Nations at United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 21 September 2019. The event was organized by the United Nations to draw attention to young people from around the world who are calling on world leaders to take action on the issue of climate change. The General Debate of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly begins Tuesday, a day after a high-level meeting of world leaders on climate change.  EPA/JUSTIN LANE
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They call it the "formidable 40s". As I creep towards the unremarkable milestone of my 44th birthday, the age bracket I now find myself in was recently trumpeted by the British consumer research company Experian as "the most financially influential sub-section of UK consumers". The fact we earn, spend and contribute more than any other age group is apparently an indication of our considerable powers.

But regardless of the deep pockets attributed to my lot, I can’t help but feel we haven't yet fulfilled our potential – and we have only ourselves to blame for not being as sought-after for our opinions as we ought to be.

As I look back with nostalgia-tinted glasses over my 20s and 30s, with their years of open-ended promise, I am tempted to ask myself: “Where has it all gone”? The evidence, of course, lies in the fact I am lucky enough to have a happy family, a successful career and a vibrant life. But what to do with these manifold blessings? How do we use them to make a difference?

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For us 40-somethings, articulating a thought is only a relatively short step to having the ability to make it happen

Over the years, I have often looked ahead and wondered what kind of person I would be in my 40s. I assumed that by now I would feel I was part of a generation that was running the world. Yet now I am firmly in my 40s, it doesn’t feel that way. My peers are somewhat sidelined in terms of visibility. We seem to have been overtaken, both by generations that are way ahead of us and of pensionable age, and by millennials and Generation Z, those who feel they have inherited a badly damaged world and blame us for its many ills.

Our approach is never going to be as vocal as the Extinction Rebellion movement, the climate activists with an hourglass logo that points to time running out. Their cause is worthy but they lack the discipline to win over the sceptics who oppose them. Nor will our ideas match the septuagenarian disruption offered by the likes of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, who might feel they have nothing to lose now they have hit their 70s. It is precisely because we have everything to lose and at the same time, still juggle responsibility for dependents – from spouses and parents to young children – that we can perceive the needs of both ends of the spectrum. We do, however, have to make ourselves heard above the din. We are in a middle-age bracket on multiple levels – squeezed between two loud and shouty generations, as well as recognising our youth is now behind us – and it is time we spoke up.

For us 40-somethings, articulating a thought is only a relatively short step to having the ability to make it happen. This is not a boast. Rather, we are the ones best-placed to deliver on the demands of those who are younger than us and who feel their warnings are not being sufficiently acted upon. We can also act as a bridge between them and older generations, who often struggle to understand and empathise with them.

Perhaps we have been a little too cautious to criticise those older than us who have helped create some of the problems we are now trying to fix. We have allowed them to have the limelight for too long. And doubtless some of the younger generation are impressive in their ambitions and expression of their hopes. When Greta Thunberg spoke at the United Nations climate change summit in New York last month, I was struck by her poise and the fierceness of her message. The teenage activist opened my eyes when she accused leaders of complacency in matters of climate change. And certainly, the passion in her speech led me to question my achievements of the past 30 years.

In the Arab world, we have a very young population that fears for its future prospects. And in reality, it is my generation who are the quiet giants with our hands on the levers of power, not they.

Here’s where my generation comes in. We are perfectly placed in the middle and can harmonise the disparate views of the age groups that are so far apart.

We, the middle-aged, are the most critical cog in the machine, not millennials or baby boomers. We are the ones with the means and ability to create a better future. It is time we started shouting louder about it. Men and women in their 40s are the real agents of change today – and we should revel in that potential. At our age, we have the qualities most required during these times of crisis around the world.

If you need any more evidence of that, simply look to the example of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He has just won the Nobel Peace Prize – and he happens to be almost exactly my age.

Mustafa Alrawi is an assistant editor-in-chief at The National