In many past cultures, older men and women were traditionally asked by the younger generations to provide answers to life’s questions and problems. Often, it happened in a seated circle in the council hut with others gathered to listen and learn. Though women may have taken part, it was typically the oldest man who provided the sage advice and had the final word.
It may have taken place in a great hall, overseen by a King, Chief, or Pharaoh, with a wizened old man or woman he turned to for trusted advice and answers. The idea that living a long life brings wisdom has been part of many cultures worldwide for centuries. The notion stems from the idea that the longer someone lived, the more successfully they handled life and that their answers on how to do that had value. Praying to one’s ancestors for guidance in primitive societies was common, too.
Nowadays, especially, it is the oldest among us that would have everyone else believe that. If that were true in all cases, the young should seemingly have no reason to complain about parental advice or how they are expected to act, yet they do. In fact, it seems universal that the youth in any society rebels against how the previous generation has lived, and the evidence to support that is overwhelming.
How about the saying we hear less commonly? “There’s no fool like an old fool.” I think it might be a better assessment of wisdom or lack thereof today. In our political arena, most powerful politicians are seniors, yet they are equally divided on the best course of action to take in any situation. They will go to practically any length to discredit an opposing view and the person holding it. How could anyone readily believe that innate wisdom has a part in politics?
I’m connected via social media to many older people, voicing various opinions online. I’ve seen many virulent posts portraying people with opposing views as complete idiots. Some would have you believe that “the other point of view” is supported by people who are genuinely evil and even that they have the sole purpose of destroying our society. The anonymity of social media brings out the worst in some. Not that the young aren’t guilty of the same behavior, but they aren’t supposed to be the wisest ones.
In the news media, mostly owned by older men and women, there’s a saying connected to the profession, “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning the more lurid a story, the better. Of course, their favorite excuse is that’s what the public wants to see or hear. To me, it’s like saying the public wants to take heroin, opioids, or smoke cigarettes, so we should market and sell them. That doesn’t sound very wise.
Fortunately, the vast majority of us, young and old, are wiser than those who shrilly shout the loudest to get the most attention. We quietly go about living reasonably honest and worthwhile lives. We tend to be tolerant of those with whom we disagree. Furthermore, we are not perfect but are wise enough to know we aren’t and that though we may know some answers, we don’t have them all. We may not always love our neighbor, but we care enough about them to know we should, and we try.
Fortunately, most of us do grow wiser with age, and that is a blessing we would do well to acknowledge.