Sunday, August 5, 2007

Wisdom


From Journal 1 - 28th February, 1978

Wisdom is not born of age but of experience. Thus a person young in years but old in experience may be considered wise, but an old person with little experience would not be. I would describe wisdom as a series of laws, morals, ethics, guidelines - call it what you will - born of mistakes and learnt by experience.

It annoys me somewhat that age alone, at times, is considered a prerequisite of wisdom. People too often are blind to the wisdom of the young and of those not of their own society. Who is less wise, a tribal shaman telling his people they must take part in fertility rites if their crops are to be successful, or a Christian priest telling parents not to grieve for a dead child? I shall leave it up to you to puzzle it out.

From Journal 1 - 1st March 1978

Stuff it, I will try to explain what I was talking about in the above entry, if only to clear it up in m own head. The answer is both, and neither, since they believe in what they are doing. The shaman believes the fertility rites are necessary because for as long as he can remember, and for generations before that, they have been performed (i.e. the wrath of a God, the sins of the villagers etc. all have ritual associated with them). Thus his wisdom is based on generations of experience. The priests wisdom however, is based on generations of faith. It cannot be said that the shamans or the priests wisdom is borne of individual experience since both are based on social experience. I would say therefore that this is not true wisdom and would qualify my definition above as follows - wisdom is a series of laws, morals, ethics guidelines...born of mistakes and learnt by individual experience.

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POSTSCRIPT
I don't think I was all that wise 30 years ago. There is a certain pomposity and self assurance that seems to have gotten lost somewhere between then and now. I no longer have such absolute beliefs, nor do I think that I am quite as intolerant of some people and some situations that I may have been back then.

I actually think that the mind does become cluttered as you get older, that original thought is far more likely at 20 than at 50 years of age. Perhaps it is because as we get older we have had far more exposure to external influences, maybe the brain just fills up, perhaps the neural pathways are no longer as clear as they once were.

In those days I was particularly intolerant of religion, maybe it was the bad Sunday School experiences, or maybe exposure at University to a more "liberal" environment to that I was brought up in. I was enjoying the exposure to different ways of thinking and organised religion seemed to me to be a straitjacket on an enquiring mind. And in dismissing it I was probably as guilty of blinkered thought as the people I was criticising.

For many years there was little time to even wonder about what it was like to wonder. The child, then the young man, got lost somewhere along the way. In reading these old journals it is clearly evident that the person writing them changed - not really surprising I guess - because the stages of life changed. This was neither good nor bad, just different, the priorities f life changed. When the kids came along I was able to write about them, the things they said and did, the holidays taken, but some years I was able to do more of that than others. In recent years, as the work hours increased, the writing decreased, and there are gaps where I have no doubt I have missed things.

I have written before about some of the music I loved. In 1977 Dan Fogelberg released an album called "Netherlands" on which was a song called "Lessons Learned" and some of the words are appropriate here -

Lessons learned
Are like bridges burned

You only need to cross them but once.

Is the knowledge gained

Worth the price of the pain?

Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?


The key is we need to learn from the lessons because it is only then that we can adapt them, mould them, temper them and wield them so that they become knowledge. The fifty year old likes to think that he knows that now, just as I'm sure that the 20 year old was absolutely certain that he was wise beyond his years at the time.

Image by J D Challenger can be viewed here.

7 comments:

Pen and the Sword said...

Heh... 1977 was a good year ;o)

I have been keeping a journal since fall of 1992. Isn't it a rush to go back and read those pages of your own history. I often find things I wrote in there a bit mind-blowing.

I also had a really bad Sunday school experience and with the church in general. Perhaps that is why I haven't attended church since I was in boot camp (and I only went then to get out of having to do details). Hell, I wasn't even married in a church.

I love your blogs, Loz. You are a really open, very wise man. You might deny that but you are ;o)

Josie Two Shoes said...

Once again, a very thought provoking post! I smiled at the ending, as it is so true that we thought we were very wise at 20, with each passing decade we realize how much less clear the answers sometimes are. How I wish I had kept journals for the past 30 years - that's incredible! What a wealth of perspective and someday down the road, a treasure to your children. I too was less tolerant at that age, in some ways rabid in my beliefs. I was quite convinced that life was black and white and there was very little room for gray areas. Now I see more overlapping grays and shades of beautiful color, so perhaps some wisdom comes in realizing that there are many answers and many ways. Am I wiser at 50 than I was at 20, I would like to think so, but I am also more fearful of the future, so life does not necessarily prepare us for growing old.

Random Magus said...

I think when we are young we feel invincible and as the years pass our vulnerability and that feeling of invincibility is slowly battered by life and thus there is a change in our outlook

HollyGL said...

I have reached a greater degree of clarity in terms of my lack of complete knowledge. Yes, I have life experience under my belt, and have learned some tragic as well as wonderful lessons, but I realize now that ...anything can happen. You can try to base what you believe about a given situation or person on what you have "seen", but life can always sneak up and tap you on the other shoulder when you weren't paying attention.

For me, personally, wisdom is the realization that I don't know anywhere near everything, and the understanding that that realization will - hopefully - allow me to continue to learn and evolve. Fingers crossed. :)

Loz said...

Pen - I do doubt my wisdom sometimes.

josie - I sometimes think that the clarity of wisdom fluctuates with the tides. But you are right when you say that things are nowhere near as black and white now as they were back then.

Amber - that is so right.

Steph - you may well be right, true wisdom may only come from the realisation that we don't know everything

meleah rebeccah said...

When I was younger I thought I knew everything. Now that I am "older" I am fast learning I don't know anything.

You have a wonderful way of expressing such great posts and inspiring deep thoughts for your readers (at least me)

Thanks Loz ... this was an excellent post!

kellypea said...

How lovely that you not only wrote in journals that many years ago, but that you kept them and are reading and thinking about what you wrote. I threw most of mine away because they embarrassed me. Now I'm sorry for that.