Are Older People Really Wise?
Older people are supposed to be wise. I think our current crop of seniors has lost some of that reputation — partly because many older people don’t keep up with technology. Younger people make fun of us for not knowing how to work the newest gizmo in the car, for not following the latest social media site.
We don’t know the hippest trends in fashion, movies or music. Were you familiar with the entertainers who sang at the Superbowl? Even stodgy old IBM is reportedly pushing out older workers, calling them “Dinobabies.”
Of course young people probably made fun of their elders back in caveman days for not embracing the newest styles in cave art, and not appreciating the latest design in spears and clubs. But the pace of change is so much faster now. Skills become outmoded. Attitudes become set in stone.
But does wisdom really involve keeping up with the latest trends? What do you think it takes to achieve wisdom, to be wise?
Perspective Is Key
I think a wise person first and foremost provides perspective. Older people see things in the context of a larger picture and focus on what’s actually important. We don’t love our smartphone. We don’t love our car. They are just things. They don’t love us back.
We love our children, grandchildren and friends, realizing they are much more rewarding than anything we can purchase. We appreciate experiences more than acquisitions. We know it’s important to focus on truly fulfilling things like love, joy, knowledge, memories.
We also also know some history. We don’t panic at the latest news event or daily depressing statistic. We’ve seen it all before and realize that progress takes time. But we know it happens. That’s why so many of us volunteer to help out in our communities — because it makes a difference.
Think not just about our longer life expectancy but also the improvement in our daily lives, thanks to everything from knee replacements and heart medications to developments in social and psychological attitudes. And as dangerous as our world is today, it’s certainly less perilous than it was during World War II or the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Important Of Learning New Things
We also know it’s important to have a skill or two, and to keep learning even as we get older. Our brains never get full. As we learn more, what isn’t important eventually recedes to the background, but still provides a foundation for incorporating new information into something resembling real truth, rather than passing fancy.
I think the wise person is skeptical, but not cynical. The cynic takes a dim view of everything. The skeptic is open to new things, but not before testing the veracity of fresh ideas, the sincerity of new people. The wise person is unlikely to fall for the latest demagogue, the newest health panacea, the fad diet.
We are also aware that we can’t research everything ourselves and we choose to believe accepted experts, not the TV huckster or internet sensation. We don’t automatically accept that someone is as brilliant as they claim, and we’re not necessarily impressed with status or diplomas. But we don’t place ourselves above anyone else either. We are willing to admit we’re wrong, willing to accept new points of view.
Know Your Limits
The wise person also knows their limits, and will push them, but not gamble their future on untested theories or ideas. Sure, we make mistakes, but we achieve wisdom by learning from our mistakes, not endlessly repeating them. It was John Foster Dulles, secretary of state under President Eisenhower, who told us: “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem, but whether it’s the same problem you had last year.”