Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Awaiting wisdom

The popular cliché says that as you age you get wiser, you're more self-aware and you've left all your youthful delusions behind. You're no longer taken in by charming rogues, slick sales patter or unlikely news stories. But is it true? Am I really older and wiser?

Up to a point, yes. But I'm sure I still have all sorts of entrenched ideas and opinions that wouldn't stand serious scrutiny. They may make sense to me, while to others they're obvious nonsense. Like my belief in people's innate goodness or the power of positive thinking.

I doubt if I'm much more self-aware either. Okay, I'm familiar with all my neurotic hang-ups and quirks, I know my strengths and weaknesses, but there must be lots of subtle character traits that are plainly visible to others but less visible to myself. I just happily overlook them.

I've dumped a few youthful illusions for sure - that I would come up with a literary masterpiece, or dazzle people with casual wit, or be a reassuring shoulder to cry on, or be present at the imminent socialist revolution. Some cherished beliefs simply can't survive stark reality.

But have I just replaced the old illusions with a bunch of brand-new ones? Like the belief that everything's being dumbed down and we no longer think anything through properly? Or the idea that sensation is now more sought-after than fact?

I certainly don't feel any wiser than my twenty something self. I don't feel that I'm on top of things or better at handling a crisis or brimming with expert advice. I still feel I'm muddling through a complex life as best I can, about to collapse in helpless dismay at any moment.

The pearls of wisdom have passed me by.


  1. Maybe you want to discuss with Ramana his pearl and the merits of "hindsight".

    I think, and I am sure you do too, that with advancing years comes insight. Which is why, on occasion - not that I do have many regrets - I wish we could live life backwards. Start with the wisdom, finish by crying over that little sand cake you have just molded - with little success - at, say, age three.

    There are no two ways about it, Nick, if I had known what I know now (let's not call it wisdom, just experience) I'd occasionally taken a right turn instead of a left or just stayed on the main road instead of being lured off the beaten track. But then, of course, one might philosophize that if so I wouldn't be who I am. And since I like who I am, bar some desirable tweaking round the edges,it's all par for the cause (!), horses for courses.

    Having said that, and since you don't have children, I am astonished (and I mean astonished) at pearls of wisdom the Angel comes up with. Maybe he is one of those "old head on young shoulders" but, honestly, sometimes I wish I'd had had his vision when I was his age - rather than learning (see above) by hindsight.

    Anyway, Nick, it'll all be over soon, in the meantime let's link arms and shake our heads at the folly life constitutes.


  2. I have known people who gain wisdom as they age and people who become even more blindly tied to their conservative notions. I hope I can fall closer to the former as I go.

  3. Don't sell yourself short!
    Yes, the world is dumbed down, and the generations that have not bothered with analytical thinking are shortchanging their chances in the world. They are all in it together; we cannot save them, so it's our job to get on with being nice and doing our best.
    Don't sell yourself short.

  4. Ursula: I think I have great insight into some things, zero insight into other things - extreme loneliness for example. I don't feel I took the wrong turn anywhere in my life, in general I'm happy with my choices. So I don't feel I now "know better". And there you have it - Angel often shows himself wise well beyond what you might expect at his age (and likewise, a lot of older people can be amazingly dumb).

  5. Agent: I agree, people age in very different ways and some older people seem to have no wisdom whatever, just a mass of half-baked assertions. You certainly seem to be heading in the right direction towards accumulated wisdom.

    Joanne: I don't think I'm selling myself short, just recognising my limited awareness. I really don't see that I'm any wiser than a lot of smart, sensitive teenagers. On a lot of subjects, I'm still a total goofball.

  6. Hm.... dunno. So many elderly people have tremendously fixed ideas, although I suppose they were probably the sort of young people who also had fixed ideas. Experience does teach you a few things, mostly about dealing with people I suspect, and getting what you want.

  7. It used to be older people trying to tell me what to it's younger ones: to make an unfair generalisation I used to have time for the older lot as I thought that somewhere under their dinosaur hides they had acquired some experience which they wished to impart even if I sometimes discounted its worth

    The current crop of young prunes can take a running jump...all touchy (very touchy) feely and didactic on an empty tank.

    Oddly enough, the thing that has widened my horizons has been blogging...fellow bloggers show me different worlds and their arguments for the value of those worlds enlighten.

  8. If nothing else, age has taught me I can't control other people, only myself. Also, most things aren't worth the worry, since I can't control it!

  9. Jenny: I suppose I'm better at dealing with other people. But not much better at getting what I want! I think a lot of those older people with fixed ideas have had troubled lives and have retreated into safe, conventional opinions that make them feel more secure.

  10. Helen: I don't have a lot of contact with the young, so I can't really say if I find them generally intelligent and well-informed or dumb and ignorant. I agree about blogging. I've had so many interesting exchanges with bloggers and learnt so much from them.

    Bijoux: My conclusion too. Trying to control other people is usually a mug's game. They go their own sweet way and seldom listen to advice.

  11. Don't know if age brings wisdom, but in my case it has certainly brought cynicism.

  12. Dave: Me too. Though I prefer to call it realism rather than cynicism.

  13. Wisdom is a general term relating to very different meanings in different cultures.
    Mia More

  14. I tend to avoid the word "wisdom" but I do value learning. So I wouldn't like to go back in time because I would have to give up too much.

  15. Mia: Indeed, but I take it to mean knowledge, experience, shrewdness, savoir-faire etc.

    Jean: I've certainly learnt a lot over 69 years. But with my poor memory, I've probably forgotten as much as I've learnt....

  16. Yes but even knowledge experience a question where and how you live. People who must arrange with war, hunger , hard work, lacking water , food etc . will have a knowledge and expérience we will never have. And this experience is for sure not a question of age. I saw as a child how hard people have to struggle to survive, so what we say here is only theory.
    Mia More

  17. Mia: Indeed, the whole idea that age brings wisdom is just a theory, as obviously it varies from person to person and culture to culture. You're right, people still struggling for the basic needs of subsistence have an experience others don't have. I've been lucky never to know such struggles.

  18. I don't think there is a point where a person becomes definitively wise but I'm definitely wiser than I was. I think it comes from perspective

  19. Kylie: Yes, you do seem have accumulated wisdom over the years. You've obviously thought hard and productively about a lot of things.

  20. I have no expertise on the inner lives of others. Nor am I much impressed by what purports to be the wisdom of old age. I'm approaching the time when my personal survival takes more and more of my time and limited energy. Sorry if that sounds gloomy, but it's the truth.

  21. Hattie: I can quite understand that. All those little physical malfunctions that accumulate as we age and need to be attended to. All very tiresome.

  22. late to the party here as usual.
    but in a way I like it.
    each comment had so much that was insightful and interesting!

    I like this
    "Like the belief that everything's being dumbed down and we no longer think anything through properly? Or the idea that sensation is now more sought-after than fact?"

    our recent elections pretty much proved that!
    we live in a sound byte world now.
    people seldom delve deeper into thoughts wisdom or the mysteries of life it seems.
    I know one thing that might be construed as wisdom for me personally... I wouldn't spend 17 years trying to get a mother in law who literally hated me ... to like me. I have more self worth now.
    just because someone is my elder I don't have to bow down to their 'wisdom' and status in life.
    the "respect your elder thing" was primo at one time. now I see elders all over the news acting like idiots.
    it's just LIFE. and PEOPLE.
    and some little 6 year olds and even dogs seem to be very wise to me! :)

  23. Tammy: I tried to have a normal relationship with my father but got nowhere so I gave up and stopped talking to him. That went on for longer than 17 years!

    Yes, there are plenty of oldies acting like idiots. They seem to have decided that sensible, thoughtful behaviour is obsolete.

  24. The thing is: we don't know we're wise. I was astonished when I overheard my daughter say at a party: "I always listen to my mother she's so wise". I don't view myself as such. I find HER so wise. I'm still amazed. My young friend tells me I know everything (with awe, lol).
    Thing is I have loads to learn. I'm unfinished.

  25. www: Seems like you're both wise, but about different things. You certainly seem wise to me, but as you say there's always more to learn.

  26. I am older
    I AM wiser
    I have more self awareness
    More confidence to act on that
    And less tolerence for the bullshit

    Does that help?

  27. John: Sort of! I guess my problem is that I find it hard to remember what I was like when I was young (my terrible memory for one thing), so it's hard to make any proper comparison between one and t'other. Am I wiser or do I just think I'm wiser?

  28. We live in a time when information is mistaken for wisdom. If you see decision making as one aspect of wisdom, you will see how pathetic the decision makers are in the choices that they make. And yes, sadly, they are young now and us the older folk can only watch and despair. I don't flatter myself that I am wise, but I do often conclude that a younger person would have taken a different, decision had s/he consulted me before deciding. I don't see that kind of consulting with older people, which used to be my generation's way of taking major decisions, taking place now because the younger people are convinced that we are past our use by date and are not clued in into current methods and systems.

  29. Ramana: I agree, I think when I was young, younger people paid more attention to the older generation's advice. Now as you say they often think they know best and the old know nothing. So many of the decisions being made by the British government seem to me absolutely nuts, but Theresa May (aged 60) and her colleagues are actually not much younger than me, so you can't blame younger people! (Chancellor of the Exchequer: 61; Brexit Minister 68; Defence Minister 64)

    And you're right, information is often mistaken for wisdom.