I often quote a friend of mine because I consider her wise. In some ways she’s wiser than I, and her remarks generally strike me as more right than not, and always worth a listen. She’s a good bit younger than me, and I was surely not as wise (nay not wise at all) as she at that age.
That suggests that wisdom is not a function of age entirely. I guess there are a number of ways to go as one moves from running to striding to walking to hobbling down life’s hopefully long road of destiny.
One can become everyone’s favorite auntie and grannie, always ready to play a game of Chutes and Ladders keeping the little ones out of the adult’s hair. One can be the always helpful always ready to drop everything to babysit, run an errand, bring a dish, drive a friend, sit by the bedside of the dying. One can go through a second childhood, with a long bucket list of “things to do before I die.” One can specialize in not giving a shit, or in giving too much a shit by championing causes. There are several thousand permutations of all these and more.
A lot of choices, I suspect are not made consciously. Only in the rarefied atmosphere of eccentricity does one start to see really conscious choice. The rest tend to be continuations of personal bents just enlarged with extra time allotments.
Wisdom seems to fall fairly equally along this spectrum, but the type may vary depending on the persona. I suspect the ever helpful grannie is considered most wise when it comes to child rearing and things that have to do with keeping households running smoothly. Some become wise in how to game the system, and do pretty much what they want with as little bureaucratic interaction as possible. “Honey, here’s what you do to get around that Medicare donut hole.” If you get my point.
But I prefer myself the sort of wisdom that is Socratic in nature, not as in method, but as in, the reason people of his time sought him out and listened to him. Because he had something to say, a new way of thinking, a better way of deciding, a new evaluation of how to live. So did Aristotle for that matter. I guess it’s why I love guys like this, and the women who forever will probably be nameless but also pushed the world forth. People who think about really eternal questions are my idols.
This sort of wisdom, I think comes from examining yourself first. Socrates said, that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And he was correct. And he was in a minority of people who actually did it and do it. To not know why we do what we do is to be nothing more than a fairly dumb animal with a slightly bigger brain. Who wants to go down in history as the creator of the hula hoop? I’ve watched shows that show a factory in full operation making plastic spoons. People stand at their stations, gathering up groups of spoons and stacking them for boxing, or some other functional equivalent. I imagine doing that for a living for thirty years.
I cannot find the sense of accomplishment somehow. Other than one has shown incredible patience and stick-to-it-tiveness. A legacy of something I guess.
At least one has all the time to examine one’s life during the eight hours of stacking spoons, but I doubt much examination is going on. For if it were, the only thing to do is walk away, and quickly.
As I said, most people don’t do it. If they did, we would not see generation after generation re-enacting their parents lives with the same scenarios of working, grass cutting, fishing, knitting, raising kids, being grandparents, and onward, with no variation on a theme. Or we would see those re-enactments, but they would be real choices and not default, “what else is there?” surrenders.
I wrote a few days ago, that as I grew up in a household peopled by parents I did not understand nor much like in the end, I often wondered who was the alien, them or I. I’m still not quite sure of the answer. It depends on from what perch you examine the question. We were of different species attempting to ignore our blatant differences and pretend that this is what we bargained for.
They never examined the question clearly, but I did. And that forced me into examining me in-depth. It is not a difficult process in one sense, and requires no education in anything. It’s simply asking “why did I” to the enumerable stupid things we do and sticking to that question. “Why did I say that stupid thing at the party last night. Why do I never think before I speak?” That’s where it starts.
Then you answer the question. But beware the first five answers are never true. That’s the part of you that tries to defend the ego and blame it on something/someone else. With every answer comes the response, “Really?” And then the realization that you are just excusing the behavior not finding out why you did it. “My old boyfriend wasn’t supposed to be there, and I was so angry that I spoke without thinking.” Nope. Nobody “makes” you angry. You control how you feel. Keep going. “I was nervous because I didn’t know many people there.” Yep, that is a fact, you were nervous, but was it really because there were strangers there? What about strangers should make you nervous?
The process can take a lot of time, and you must be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Most people stick with the “old boyfriend” excuse and renew their anger, and that leads to a rehash of old pains, and nothing is learned. But if you take the time, you will get to the bottom of it. An answer that will no doubt leave you feeling vulnerable and raw but at least free to figure out a solution. The truth is you are unsure of yourself, feel inadequate, and feel you have to put on a pretense of being popular and witty and smart in front of all these “new” faces. That makes you nervous, and when nervous you can’t think wittily or smart.
See how it works?
You do this process relentlessly. Why do I always pick that type of friend, significant other, boss? Why do I always take that position in the office hierarchy? Why do I get into a fight with Uncle Mike every Thanksgiving?
Then when armed with the real reasons you do what you do, you can make intelligent choices to do what you choose to change the outcomes. That’s a wise thing to do.
Why do I believe this? Why do I feel that? To understand the answers is to understand why others don’t believe as you believe and why they don’t feel as you do. That broadens you in some ways, and explains a good deal in any case. You begin to see the fallacies that dog others that you are now free of. You admit your own negative proclivities and allow them theirs. You can view others engaging in blame and excuses and know the probable deeper motives at work.
If nothing else it gives you an edge. Used poorly it’s manipulation of the worst kind, used well, it can be the best of mentoring.
Me? I’m very sure that I am not patient enough to help people undo the tangles of their self-explanations. I point out the errors, and this is met often with anger and the charge of “you think you’re so smart”. That’s okay. I do think I am “so smart”, in fact I have the IQ testing to prove it, although that is not at all the point. The point is I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know a hell of a lot of things, but I can learn what I need and want to know. I don’t have to be like the herd and merely have “opinions” based on filmy desires, hidden fears, and ignorant misinformed conclusions of what’s best for me.
I’d like to be eccentric, and wise. That’s what I’m shooting for. I prefer to give a shit a lot about life and humanity, and not give a shit about what anybody thinks of me, because in the end, the only thing that matters is that I cared about something important. I want to wear bright yellow and red because I want to be noticed. I want to laugh loudly, and curse magnificently, and be quotable often. I want to poke a stick at stupid people as I DEFINE THEM, and torture them endlessly with logical arguments that make them cry uncle. I want to be absurd about absurd things. I want to call out bigotry and shame those that hide behind false doctrines that allow them to feel good about hating.
I’m very secure in me, the only one there is. For that reason alone, I’m a good thing. I won’t come along again.
I will organize me as I choose and never give a damn what you think, but rather laugh at your “fitting in” however you define it.
And I applaud those of you who do the same. We are dancing, albeit a bit stiffly these days, down the lane leading to who knows what. We are not going kicking and screaming, but rather noting everything along the way, savoring every instant, nodding to fellow travelers, and thumbing our noses at the sleeping hoards. If I piss you off, well that’s a plus.
Now that is what I call being self-indulgent, and many will read this that way. But to those of you who are young and thinking, you just got a bit of a blueprint for living the good life. I’m sure you’ll use the information wisely.