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The wisdom of … wisdom | Do our ideas about wisdom change with age?

Wisdom. It’s a word we hear a lot in our constantly changing technological age. “It would be wise of you to ….” Or, “As you grow older, you will become wiser.”

The pursuit of wisdom has been discussed, debated and rebuffed for thousands of years.

Ancient philosophers like Socrates told us, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing,” while Aristotle took a slightly different take and said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

The Bible, the ideal reservoir for those interested in attaining wisdom, encourages people to ask God for it and to pursue it, giving the impression that wisdom is a gift but also something gained through effort and experiences.

Pop culture stars, famous athletes, successful writers and societal leaders are also in the business of dispensing wisdom.

Writer Ralph Waldo Emerson directed us not to go “where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Basketball star Michael Jordan provided a key piece of wisdom for those facing obstacles. “If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks,” he said. “I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who could have easily let hate overcome him but instead rose above it, said, “Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.”


Age and wisdom
Wisdom comes in a variety of forms. It might be something as simple as learning not to touch a hot stove or understanding the consequences of telling a lie. It can also be something that is difficult to define or relate in a few words.

As we grow older, we have a general perception that we become wiser—our life experiences giving us a different perspective on how we think, live with one another and pursue life goals. Many times our mistakes and utter failures provide us with the most decisive fodder for developing wisdom.

We assume that we are wiser at 72 years of age than we were at 41 or 27—or certainly 9.

For those in their retirement years, they have lived through countless experiences people younger than them have yet to encounter. It’s from that perspective they can look to younger generations and offer a bit of wise counsel. Not so much the idea of This is how you do it, but rather a general sense of Here is what I have learned from my life, and it may help you in some way.

C. R. is a Twin Cities’ resident and retired. He has always kept the words a pastor spoke about wisdom close to his heart. The pastor had said, “Wisdom is God’s Word wrapped around our experiences.” It’s a compelling concept, and one C. R. believes helps inform our life from the perspective of God.

With this point of view in mind, C. R. believes we can turn our experiences into good, especially those that are less than positive. Those bad decisions, those discouraging outcomes, those utter failures … wisdom is taking those life episodes and using them to better inform our present and direct our future.

For Joan, another retiree, the challenge to understanding wisdom is rooted in knowing and reading God’s Word. Our ability to make wise decisions—or to pursue common sense—is developed by how informed we are by the Bible.

Second, Joan believes another key piece of wisdom useful for younger generations is being willing and ready to admit fault and ask for forgiveness.

“Whenever I am challenged—either by the Holy Spirit or by another person—of having said or done something that offended another person, that I quickly admit it and apologize,” she said. “Letting things fester is never good. Whether or not the apology is accepted is not my responsibility, but to express the sincere apology is my responsibility.”

Developing a humble and pliable heart is a key step in a life informed by biblical wisdom.


Wisdom from a kid’s perspective
While those in their retirement years have sound advice and pieces of wisdom to pass on to those in their younger years, kids have also learned lessons in their relatively brief lives. They most likely have not experienced the types of loss and failure as those several decades older; however, in their few short years, they have developed their own sense of wisdom.

When asked what piece of advice or wisdom he would pass on to other kids, Nathaniel, age 11, said to “listen to good music to try to focus on God, not girls and stuff like that.”

Nathaniel wasn’t done. He had more wise counsel: “Have someone pray for you in tough times; it helps me,” and “When you feel like you don’t have anything to do, read the Bible because you can’t remember it all.”

While Nathaniel’s counsel is not necessarily based upon decades of life experience, it’s sound, biblical and helpful. What person—age 10 or 40 or 80—couldn’t benefit from his prescriptions on wisdom?

Hannah, 10, had similar advice for other kids: “To be fruitful you should read the Bible a lot and obey your parents, even if it’s hard. Don’t listen to your friends if they suggest that you do something bad. Going outside in nature can connect you with God, because it’s quiet and it gives you time to think about God.”

Several other pieces of sound advice for those of any age.

Jordan, 9, took the same lead about obeying parents, saying, “Obey your mom and dad so you won’t get in trouble, and you will have a better life.”


Wisdom … young and old
All of these pieces of wisdom and advice—whether they are based on decades of life experiences or developed through a relatively short period of time—serve as critical pieces in our life journeys.

Perhaps the key challenge, however, is not so much knowing pieces of wisdom that guide us in our life, but being able to adopt those key pieces of wisdom during critical times.

— by Scott Noble