Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Age and default wisdom

I have come to the belief that with age almost always comes a certain amount of default wisdom. What I mean by this is that someone who is older is almost necessarily wiser than when they were younger. Now, at 36, I am wiser than I was at 26. That's how I think life goes.

Supposedly, at least according to Socrates Plato*, wisdom entails, I suppose, full knowledge but the first step to full knowledge, if I interpret the Apology of Socrates correctly, is acknowledging what we do not know, and he/she who knows nothing had best start by knowing that he/she knows nothing and then acknowledging it.

As a formula, it is easy to claim to realize that we know nothing. But as an honest belief, an honest affirmation, it is hard to acknowledge that to oneself. When I was younger, I thought I knew a lot more than I do now. Even now as I have "learned" more through years of education and job experience and family and social relationships, I realize so much more of what I don't know.

Might I say that when I claim that with age almost necessarily comes a certain amount of default wisdom, I am not saying that older people are necessarily wiser than younger people. I remember in college one professor assuring the students--most of whom were 18 or 19--that we were not as aware of the reality of death and our own mortality as he and yet older people were. I remember resenting his assumption, not because he was necessarily wrong--in my case, he was right, and I think I knew that--but because there was no way that he could know that to be true by our age. Some people, by the time they have reached the age of 18, have been introduced to the death of close friends or family members, something I did not really encounter until my 30s (I know one person who, in grade school or middle school, knew someone that had been murdered). It would be foolhardy of me to claim more wisdom in this regard by virtue of the fact that I am 36 and the other person is younger.

I am only saying that growing older has made me wiser than I was when I was younger, and that the runabout of years has the tendency to make anyone wiser.

Finally, might I say that when I write that with age "almost necessarily" comes wisdom, I do mean "almost": I'm not going to discount the possibility that one might grow more foolish over time. But I thing the grinding mill of experience crushes down the foolhardiness that is pride, or excessive attachment to the self, that is one of the essential features of foolishness.

*I'm often annoyed when people cite "Socrates" when in fact they are referring to the character in Plato's dialogues, with little acknowledgment that Plato may have at the very least tweaked what Socrates is alleged to have said or done in order to better portray his own philosophy.

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