Sunday, October 14, 2012

Does age bring wisdom?

The grey haired old man had strangely young and attentive eyes that stared out from a face etched with the deep lines of a man who has lived and seen much during his long life, walked slowly but with long and  persistant strides towards the village nested in the hollow of the mountains, his back slightly bent against the wind, one sinewy hand gripping a long polished oak staff that looked as harded by age and experience as the old man himself.

This is a scene from countless books and movies where the wise old sage suddenly appears in a village to organize and guide on the eve of disaster. But does age really bring wisdom ?

The case in favor is not hard to understand. The fires of a passionate youth have long cooled and with many years of experience behind him the wise man (or wise women) can offer advice to hot headed young whippersnappers on the trails and tribulations of life.

But I disagree with this.

Can a 75 year old man really remember what is was like being a 15 year old full of piss and vinegar as the saying goes? Sure he can recall certain dramatic events but can he remember how it felt to be a teenager? Can he remember the urgency of his passions, his desires, his hopes? Can you remember, truly remember,  yourself as a eight year old? Of course you can't. You forgot. We all forget.

This isn't surprising. It is only a function of our brains that takes certain events and molds them into a coherent narrative. This is what creates the illusion of self hood, that the 75 old man is the same person as the man when he was 15. Old age then is just another stage like childhood or adolescence. Each stage brings it's own frustrations and desires and needs. 

Then there is culture. Culture is a by-product of humans living together.  It is always changing, always influencing how we think in very subtle ways.  Can a 75 year old man today relate to a 15 year old teenager today? I doubt it.

So I don't believe that age brings wisdom.  We forget too easily what life was like ten or twenty years ago. We all grow up in a culture that exists but for a moment in time.   In old age the fire of passion may have settled into a warming haze but we sit there nodding in the pleasant and drowsy heat oblivious to the long forgotten passions of youth.  The old see problems not with a cool head but with an aging head and an aging perspective.   Their advice will be endured and ignored, just as they themselves ignored their grandparents advice.  And perhaps they were right to do so.


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