When I was a teenager (and also as a college student), I was hit with the compliment, “you are wise beyond your years”. Like everyone else, I talked about spending time with older people to “learn from their wisdom”.
I really love and value older people. I honor their experience and the things they have learned. But I no longer think older people are wiser inherently because they have seen more of life.
When I was that teenager, getting that compliment, I would yearn for the days when I would become an adult. When wisdom would finally catch hold of my peers and people would not be as immature and petty as they are on a high school campus.
The most disappointing thing I have discovered as an adult is that, for many, age does not lead to wisdom. The correlation is not as direct as we pretend. We have mistaken the very real value in our culture of honoring those who are older and what they have been through with the assumption those experiences create (in and of themselves) a sense of wisdom.
What Experience Creates
So, the reason we think wisdom is linked to age is because of experience. We assume people learn from experience. We assume experience is the proving ground where people are faced with realities. Older people have experienced disappointment, pain, and perseverance to a greater degree than the novice. So, they can tell you more about how to survive, how to react to experience, and how diverse your experiences will be.
And that is extremely valuable! I can’t say this enough, it is worthy of our honor. But it does not necessitate wisdom.
Experience does not create wisdom. It creates opportunity. And some people, no matter how many opportunities you place before them, have not made the most of them.
For some, age can actually be a deterrent to wisdom. The decisions we make (when we are young) and the experiences we have (in childhood) create in us a kind of worldview, a set of predispositions, biases, and expectations. We start to form a narrative and a pattern of thought. Our first instinct, whenever we face a new experience, is to mold and shape it to match the narrative we have adopted.
In that regard, time and experience can bury us under prejudices and assumptions.
The Wisdom of Opportunity
There are plenty of older folks who have taken the opportunities life has given them and learned a great deal. There are plenty, maybe even most, who have discovered wisdom and can share that with the rest of us. But it is not inherent in their age. It is not an inevitable result of time and abundance of circumstance. It is a result of their choices.
The reason this is important is because wisdom is an opportunity for everyone. Today and everyday. Experience is a data point in our attempts at wisdom. But it certainly isn’t the only one.
All we have to do is look at the news to see people older than we are making poor choices, acting foolishly.
Foolishness in adults is no more prevalent than wisdom. It is all a matter of the individual and the choices they have made in the midst of their opportunities.
No matter what age you are, wisdom is available to you. Today! Right now. There are some things that only experience can teach, but wisdom is not one of them.
In fact, it is vitally important for you to pursue wisdom as a young person. When you get older, the choices you have made in your youth are the foundations for your patterns of thought and expectation. The more foolish these are, the more difficult they are to overcome. The wiser they are, the better prepared you are to experience truth and reality for all it is worth.