Most of these “Leadership Proverbs” I’ve just picked up, absorbed and imbibed by some process of osmosis along the way and don’t know exactly whom they originated from. But when I know I’ll make reference, and when I don’t it’s not that I’m ungrateful or that I want to appear like a genius. It’s genuinely that I can’t remember. So if I’ve flogged something from you let me know and I’ll happily acknowledge it.
Old People Are Fools Too
Wisdom is a valuable commodity. I’d much prefer to be wise than to be a fool. It’s much better when I act and respond wisely than when I act and respond foolishly. Wisdom is so valuable, and yet it seems often so rare and hard to acquire.
Not only that but it’s often hard to define. What even is wisdom? Now I’m sure there are better definitions floating around, but mine would be something like: wisdom is being able to diagnose what the situation is and then apply the appropriate knowledge to achieve the desired outcome. That at least gets us in the ballpark.
But along with that I often hear 3 misconceptions about wisdom. They are 1) That age makes you wise; 2) that knowledge makes you wise; and 3) that experience makes you wise. And you may have heard one or all of those before as well.
None of them are true.
1) Age does not make you wise
Just simply being around on the planet does not have any inherent ability to make you wise. It is a truism that the longer you are around the more types of situations you are likely to encounter with differing types of people. That would be generally true. But that doesn’t by necessity make you wiser.
The simple fact is I know a lot of foolish old people. People who don’t live wisely but instead live small, bitter, destructive, cyclical lives. Age doesn’t make you wise.
2) Knowledge does not make you wise
We all know that person who is brilliantly smart, freakishly clever, but is cringingly awkward in social situations. Or who makes hopelessly stupid life decisions, despite being amazingly knowledgeable. Knowledge is certainly a component of wisdom, but it is not the same thing as wisdom. A person is able to be very knowledgeable and yet blindingly foolish. It’s easy to get confused and think that because a person has knowledge that that person must also be wise. But they’re not the same thing. There are few things more foolish than a knowing fool.
3) Experience does not make you wise
This misconception seems the most likely to be correct as it takes parts from “knowledge” and “age” and combines them. It’s not age that makes you wise, it’s the experiences you accrue that makes you wise, surely. And it’s not knowledge in isolation but knowledge over time that makes you wise, surely.
But again the answer is no. Experience doesn’t make you wise. Have you ever seen people make the same mistake over and over again? Have you ever made the same mistake twice? Experience by itself doesn’t make anyone wise. You can experience all kinds of people and circumstances, make all kinds of mistakes, and then continue to make those same mistakes over and over again.
Here’s how I think it works.
Age allows you to collect a wide variety of experiences. But what then needs to happen is we need to reflect on those experiences, why we failed or why we succeeded or what other factors contributed to the outcome. And then once we’ve harvested that knowledge from our experiences then we need to apply it to our future experiences, to our thought processes and sometimes to our conceptual frameworks of “how the world works”. Then we will be wise.
But you don’t need to be old, knowledgeable and experienced to be wise. You can be young and wise. Being smart and being wise are different. And you can learn from the experiences of others, you don’t need to be hit by a bus to know that being hit by a bus is a bad idea and you should avoid it.
You can be old and wise, but it’s not a guarantee. You can be knowledgeable and wise, but it’s not a guarantee. You can be experienced and wise, but it’s not a guarantee.