Sunday 01 January 2012

With Age Comes Wisdom?

The proverb “with age comes wisdom” lends the supposition that old age is a symbol of sagacity. Yet, I question the wisdom (pardon the pun) of this advice. I believe, rather, that age is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for wisdom, even though their coexistence is viewed as a truism in most cultures. For example, in many ancient tribes, elders are regarded as wise teachers who possess great virtues or values. Today, many religious figures, philosophical thinkers, and world leaders are revered for their wisdom in their spiritual, moral, or political beliefs. However, it is a mistake to equate wisdom with intellect, for wisdom encompasses more than the mere acquisition of knowledge but reflects a deep understanding of human nature. Indeed, contemporary interpretation of wisdom, relying on a scientific framework based on psychoanalytic and cognitive theories, asserts that wisdom can only be achieved when there is a mastery of the cognitive, reflective, and affective domains that together represent the human condition. In Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, for instance, wisdom is only attained in the final (eight) stage of life when ego integrity is won over despair as we are forced to look back at our lives in retrospection. Most recently, the Berlin Wisdom Project have found little evidence that wisdom necessarily increases with age. Worse yet, there may be a critical age beyond which wisdom begins to diminish, perhaps due to declines in mental functions associated with aging. Regardless of how wisdom is defined and measured, it is likely that individuals who believe they have attained wisdom are ones who fail to truly grasp this virtue—as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi once said, “It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom.”

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under World
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