Friday, February 11, 2011

Words, Words, Words about Wisdom

"The older I grow the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom." H.L. Menken

In my mid-twenties, I had to appear in court after a man in a GMC Jimmy ran a red light and totalled my Acura Integra. While waiting for my case to be called, a little old gray-haired lady was brought out in an orange jumpsuit and cuffs. She had a bandage on her head. A little old gray-haired man, with a matching bandage on his head, was called forward from the audience. Turns out, the little old gray-haired lady was the little old gray-haired man's girlfriend. They both got drunk the night before, and the little old gray-haired lady threw a brick at the little old gray-haired man's head, overbalanced, and fell down, hitting her own head on a table.

This whole experience made me sad. Now I'm a little middle-aged gray-haired lady who's very careful not to get drunk. Does this mean I am wise, or merely sensible?

I had a number of elderly professors at Duke. Some were excited about learning and enthusiastically conveyed that excitement to students. Their wisdom seemed to lie in an insatiable wonder of the world around them. Other elderly professors were simply tired. New thoughts seemed to require a bit more effort than they had energy for, so they relied on what they already knew, a bit like Professor Binns in the Harry Potter books.

If age does not by itself confer wisdom, what does? Please share your thoughts.


  1. I think that wisdom comes from life's experiences, an open mind and a constant thirst for knowledge. Age doesn't necessarily confer wisdom. How often have we come across a younger person who is said to "have an old head on young shoulders"?
    Your experiences with the professors shows that some were full of energy and enthusiasm whereas others were 'clock watching' to retirement day - did these last professors ever have energy and enthusiasm?
    Thanks for the thought provoking message Susan

  2. I think life experience coupled with an ability to listen deeply conveys wisdom. Wisdom comes with being able to recognize perspectives that one may not understand or agree with, but can appreciate nevertheless.

  3. I think there comes a time in everyone's life when one chooses whether or not to live consciously. I'm not sure when that moment arrives, that is probably a question for philosophers. It is as if a switch in your brain clicks on and from that point forward your thinking changes. You observe not only actions, but consequences. Your understanding of behavior deepens, and your priorities change. You are better able to listen. I believe it makes you more compassionate. I also know it's a one way switch. Once flipped, you are "conscious" for life. And I think that conscious living brings wisdom.

  4. Life experiences... and passion, enthusiasm, a sense of humor, a willingness to learn and embrace new things.

    (Susan, this is Linda E. I needed to choose a fake name for my Google email account for the Divine Secret Siblings. I'm sure you know the inspiration for my user name. In fact, I think you know her personally.)


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!