The Wisdom of Age

Age is a powerful thing. We can’t refute many of the things that come with it. Wrinkles, hunched backs and lack of sleep come to mind. Wisdom is another thing that people believe is correlated with age. I think this is debatable. We’ve all seen too many well aged people who are just as foolish in their old age as they were in their youth. That alone shows that age doesn’t automatically beget wisdom. On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore how reckless and immature young people have been for generation upon generation.

This leaves us with a question to answer. What is it about age that leads to wisdom in the first place? And why does it seem to work for some people so dramatically while leaving others virtually unchanged?

If you’ve been reading my material long enough then you have probably learned that I was amazingly immature in my own youth. I used to lash out at people due to my insecurities. I wrote bad checks (frequently) because it was easier than trying to manage my limited funds. When I started my career at Blue Cross I would stop working halfway through the workday because I had already done enough work to get credit for the day. Do you get the picture? I had no claim to wisdom of any sort, I was terrible.

Fast forward 10 or 15 years. Today I actively seek out ways to build people up and encourage them. I am secure enough to be honest with myself and about myself. I own a home and work constantly to save money for the future. Even more incredibly, I am well respected at work for my willingness to go above and beyond to get things done.

So what changed me so dramatically? Is it all a simple function of age? Did I just “grow up”? Age is certainly a component, but there is nothing simple about it. If I had to put my finger on the biggest change I would have to point at the point at which I accepted Jesus as my Lord and began to seek out his will for my life. It took some time to get adjusted, but there wasn’t a lot of room to be lazy or mean after that happened.

The second thing I would point to would point to is my weight loss. I’ve talked before about how dramatically my perspective on people and life shifted when this happened. These events and choices are the things that really drove my turnaround. The root of any wisdom that I might possess at this point in my life is firmly rooted in events like those.

Based on those things I don’t believe that age generates wisdom on its own. Instead, I believe that age acts like a whetstone for wisdom. A whetstone is a type of stone made for sharpening knives. You run the blade across the stone and it hones the edge of the blade until it becomes sharp.  In the same manner your experiences are sharpened over time and imperfections are more likely to be revealed.

Given enough time experience tends to pile up. At this point in my life I’ve had enough failures to know that it’s not the end of the world when it happens. As a result I don’t tend to overreact to it anymore. I’ve experienced enough failure to convince me that I’m not perfect and I don’t always know what I’m talking about.  I’ve been convinced by experience that sometimes I’m better off listening to someone else’s ideas. I also have enough experience to have a better idea of what kinds of ideas and behaviors will lead to success and which ones will lead to failure. As a result, I can adapt my own ideas and behaviors to improve my own chances of success.

This is where years of experience make a difference. When I was younger I lacked the perspective needed to know these things. Sure, I made the best decisions I could with the information I had at the time. That being said, I could have made better decisions if I had been more receptive to the experience of others, but that wasn’t really my personality.

You might have noticed that I used years of experience in that last paragraph rather than age. That was intentional. It’s possible for someone like me to grow as old as I want to but never learn the types of lessons that I mentioned above. This is because years of life are a poor substitute for years of experience. There are 25 year olds who have built up more experience as a manager and leader than some 50 year olds that I know. I’m 34 but I’ve only been writing intentionally for a year or so. There are writers in their teens that are better than I am because they’ve been working at it for years.

For your years to have the power that I’ve described they have to be applied to something. This is part of the answer to the question I started with. One reason that age can leave some people without wisdom is that they aren’t applying those years to anything. Does that make sense? A person who only works because they have to and then goes home to watch TV all the time will not grow in wisdom to the same degree as someone who seeks experience through personal activity.

Let’s follow that through to its logical conclusion. If this is true, then it also stands to reason that a person who intentionally seeks multiple types of experience will grow in wisdom to a much greater degree than someone who has experience that is tied up in the same thing day after day and year after year. I believe that multiple types of experience can act as an amplifier for wisdom. When you do this you are able to apply the lessons from dissimilar events in a way that others haven’t before. As you fit these concepts together with new lessons from new experiences you are literally creating something new. You are creating a new way of understanding how the works and how best to interact with it. You are able to do this because no one in the world has the same set of experiences that you do. We’re all unique; our sets of experience are all different. The lessons that I learn from my experiences are different than yours. When each of us seek out new experiences and add them to what we already have we are adding new variables and factors into our thought process. This is how we hone our experiences into wisdom and this is how we amplify our simple experiences into thoughts that can be applied across the entire world.

Age and experience are extremely powerful, but they cannot be the foundation of wisdom. Remember the descriptions of my own experience. If I had not gotten my act together then the foundation that my experience was honing and amplifying would be nothing more substantial that dust in the wind. In my mind this is the other factor that explains why age can leave us unchanged or even worse off than we started. If there is no truth at the root of a person’s experience then the lessons that they learn are rooted in error and will lead to pain.

This is where age becomes dangerous. We are taught from a young age that wisdom comes with age. That means that the advice we get from our elders should be good, it should be something that we can put our faith in and take action on. This seems to be more and more untrue as time goes by. There are faulty lessons everywhere. We can see faulty examples on television shows and music videos. We can read faulty examples in magazines and books. We even deal with faulty examples in our families and co-workers. We expect to hear something useful from them because of age and experience but many times all we receive are poisonous words of bitter disappointment from someone who didn’t live life to the fullest.

Experience that isn’t rooted in truth is worse than no experience at all. At least the person with no experience has the optimism that the truth is out there, that success is possible. Experience that isn’t rooted in truth is like a forest bed of overgrown ivy, it steals the life and vitality of any other plants in the area. The only thing the ivy can’t tear down is a tree. It can surround a tree and climb its trunk, but it makes no impact because a tree is rooted deep. Real wisdom is like that, rooted deep in truth so that the ivy that tries to topple it and the storms that try to uproot it are unsuccessful.

If you want to be like that tree then you need to find the truth. You need to examine your life for lessons rooted in error and prune them out. Don’t beat yourself up over it either. This pruning is a healthy part of growing older. Take pride in your ability to identify and remove these things, you are far better off. Once you are rooted in the truth it’s time to try something new. Don’t be afraid of change and challenge. Seek them out. These experiences are like a light that help you to examine your thoughts and expose the things that are hidden in the dark. Most of all, remember that we are all unique and that other people have experiences that can amplify your own. Find others who are rooted in truth and intentionally spend time with them to learn from them. Eventually you’ll find that others are seeking you out to do the same.

Be blessed,

Jonathan

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Posted on September 4, 2011, in Personal Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Johnathan, I really enjoyed this blog and I learned some things about you that I didn’t know (particularly, your acceptance of Christ).
    You’re right, people seem to think that age brings about wisdom and that is simply not the truth in most cases.
    Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Kim. I love that you’re reading 🙂

  3. I believe I can say with you: Though wisdom does not come from age it is available to all ages. The wisdom to do what is good is provided by God the Father to anyone who will ask for it, believing that God does not lie.

    Thank you for this post. What you have said is true. And we who serve the Most High God through Jesus testify to that truth. We walk in places where man without the Lord fear to walk. The wisdom of the Lord does what man cannot. Thus we become more than simpletons, more than man.

    Iron sharpens iron. Keep writing. One thing I’ve found is that the more truth I write the more truth I am bound over to live. Teachers will be judged more strictly because they testify that there is more to be owned. We prove the power of our God in the living of what pleases Him. This is wisdom in all ages and at all times and places. Not to mention that we never learn so much as when we teach.

    By His Grace.

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