Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Are old people really more wise than young people?

I think the first thing you need to do is define wisdom. If you think of wisdom as book smarts, memorizing facts and data that can recited back on demand, then I think age is obviously a obstacle since many older people have trouble remembering your name. If wisdom is more about knowing and understanding the minutia of life, perhaps age does help play a role. Mature people have after all lived longer and so have experienced more, so they could very well have insight that younger people could not have.

This being said I should mention that some old people live both figuratively and literally, in bubbles. Some people can achieve age while never bothering to stop and consider an alternate point of view. Some people grow up, live and die in the same small town having never traveled outside their state. Others have traveled the world, fought in wars and survived great hardships.

This of course, doesn't mean that folks who have traveled the world necessarily have open minds, or that small town yocals have closed minds. The overall knowledge or wisdom one has probably is more connected to the sharing of ideas, than anything else. This means that sharing ideas is paramount to obtaining knowledge. Knowledge after all is nothing more than ideas that have been proven and dis-proven over time. Any scientist will tell you that a negative result is just as valuable as a positive one, even if the result is met with a less than enthusiastic reception.

In my opinion there is no doubt that the younger generations can learn a great deal from those who have lived. The only problem I see is that many times, it's like pulling teeth trying to get some of the older folks to share. I've touched on this before, somewhere along the line it became a "rule" not to discuss politics and religion and in some families and circles, this morphed into a "rule" where no one shares any opinions or anything that might cause someone to be uncomfortable. How is the younger generation to learn anything if ideas, opinions and world views are not shared?

Of course this isn't the case with everyone, sometimes you can't hardly get a word in edgewise with some folks. They want to capitalize all your time with stories about the old world, the war or back when they had to walk to school up hill both ways. They might not know who won the world series last year but they can tell you in great detail each and every single mistake and misstep John F. Kennedy ever made. Or they might be to tell you each and every team ever to have any success at all while competing in our national past time but not have a clue who their Senator or Congressman is, or even if they voted for or against the latest piece of landmark legislation.

Sometimes skills and abilities are handed down from generation to generation. The Fathers and Grandfathers, The Mothers and Grandmothers, teach the younger generation about the skills needed in life. Sometimes these skills are lost because they want more for their children, because after all women shouldn't be stuck in a kitchen and young men shouldn't be forced to work with their hands, that's grunt work... All to often prejudices are inherited from the older generations. But acceptance is also learned. There was a time in the history of our great nation when blacks couldn't see a doctor because many simply wouldn't trouble themselves to help a colored person, while some treated these minorities with the same respect as anyone else.

A very telling piece from our American history is that back in the very early days of our country even before the republican form of government that we now hold dear is that both young and old, rich and poor alike were very knowledgeable and literate. Education was a key ingredient in the American Experiment, at a time when the percentage of literate people in Europe was very low, early Americans took great pride in making sure everyone could not only read and write, but understood what freedom meant. Having read from the same books and sharing ideas across the board led to people being able to compromise and grow. Even people who didn't agree were able to come together.

The only way for us to grow as a society, is if we continue to share opinions and ideas. It's important to note that several of our founders did not like each other very much, but they respected one another, so much so as to risk their lives for one another. None of this would have been possible if we simply refused to share ideas and opinions. This means that the younger folks need to listen and learn what they can from the older generations but it also means the older generations need to keep their mind open to new ideas that the younger folks bring to the table.

Where does this leave us, are old people really more wise or not? I think the answer is simple, it depends:-) An idea isn't necessarily correct just because it comes from someone who has achieved an advanced age just as an idea from a young person is not wrong simply because they have not lived or experienced any hardships in their life.



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