People have the craziest notions of their own abilities. Even people who tout their own humility and ability to prevent themselves from becoming too prideful or whatever else tend to miss the point entirely. Claiming wisdom is another way a person can exert control over others. You say you have all of the answers and if anyone believes you, you’ve just gotten yourself a follower who will take your word over things like facts and logic.
In our culture as well as many across the globe, old people are regarded with respect. This is something I’ve always been confused by because I have never found people older than me to be much smarter than me. Sure, they’ve experienced things I haven’t – like, rearing children (poorly), having a job that requires manual work, walking uphill both ways to school in the snow, and all of that. But, I’ve also experienced things that most people haven’t either. Unlike having children, the events I’ve experienced aren’t ones that are eventualities in a person’s life; it’s really a matter of just having rotten luck at a very specific time in your life. If you haven’t already had that rotten luck, you never will, thus, you will never have that same experience I have had. Does that mean that I’m wiser than you because I’ve had shitty luck and you haven’t? Aging is just another thing that is an eventuality – everyone is going to get older and they’re going to experience many of the same things as a supposed “wise” old person has.
Being old doesn’t automatically make you wise. It’s hard to accept it when someone younger than you who hasn’t experienced what you’ve experienced has answers to questions you didn’t even think to ask. It’s embarrassing and flies in the face of social expectations. Walking the line between age and how people expect to be treated is challenging in many cases. There are guides for young supervisors to handle older workers, for older workers to handle a younger supervisor, and just generally not making a total ass of yourself when dealing with coworkers who are older or younger than you. In these guides, you’re supposed to “respect an older worker’s life experience”. What does that even mean? Wouldn’t someone who is already wise beyond words not be so dang on-edge when it comes to that? Would they not welcome questions because a wise person is able to answer them? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a whole lot of “wise” people who get ornery when you don’t acknowledge that they’re old and have done stuff you haven’t done.
What surprises me is that, in all of these cases, the assumption is generally that a younger supervisor is going to be “idealistic”, “enthusiastic”, and even “inexperienced”. It pains me to point out that your younger boss might actually be smarter, wiser, and much more capable than you and that’s why they’re your boss and not the other way around. Age doesn’t equate to intelligence and wisdom, which most people never seem to figure out. And, of course, I don’t need to bother mentioning that there are many younger bosses that are total morons and were only promoted because of some family connection as opposed to real merit. However, that is beside the point I’m making here – life experience doesn’t amount to diddly squat.
So, that brings me to what I did partially out of frustration and partially out of curiosity – after spending some time sifting through a site called Experience Project, I decided to pose a question to the community – “Are you actually wise?” or some such. Half of the responses avoided the question altogether. Saying that they were wise would, of course, invite scrutiny. Being that they were presumably not certain that they were wise, they didn’t want to be scrutinized as they weren’t sure they could back up their claim. A couple of people did claim that they were wise right up front, but immediately tried to disarm any attempts to scrutinize them and appear wise at the same time by inviting people to disagree. A few others still tried something totally different to protect themselves from scrutiny but to try to “prove” that they were wise – they threw out some little tidbit without directly answering the question. This allowed them to maintain their own belief that they were wise while allowing them to deny ever having claimed it since they didn’t do so directly.
Now, of course, none of that is good enough for me and so I asked follow-up questions. Unsurprisingly, the majority of people went the direction of humor to deflect the scrutiny so that they wouldn’t be forced to question whether they were actually wise as they believed. One person though immediately became defensive, which would be a more classic example of “fight or flight”. The first step is to insult me as though putting me down somehow devalues the question they’ve been forced to ask themselves, and the second is to insult the question as being irrelevant or whatever. Now, keep in mind that I didn’t ever tell anyone that they were not wise, I just put that suggestion forward as a possibility. What makes you think you’re wise? The wording was intentional. You can’t prove that you are wise, so it’s an assumption you’ve made about yourself based on … what?
As for the people who tried to “prove” their wisdom with goofy tidbits about different kinds of wisdom existing in the world – that’s nice and all, but as I said before, it’s a classic method of deflection. When I say “wise”, you know damn well what I’m talking about and so playing linguistic dodgeball isn’t going to make you look any smarter than you are. People who have grappled with unpleasant emotions have a tendency to look for some redeeming qualities within themselves, something to make it easier to cope with the loss and grief they’ve endured. Pretending to be wise is just one such method of coping, but it’s one that I take issue with for a specific reason. Telling yourself that you know something that no one else does only sets yourself up to block out any and all meaningful information.
So, to be fair, I’ll answer my own question – Do I actually believe that I’m wise?
Fuck no. I’m not. I’m really smart, that I know to be a fact, but I make a lot of stupid mistakes that I know are stupid going in because of a goofy optimism I cling to. I hope that things will work out and that I’ll become the hero of my own story and it usually ends up biting me in the ass. I believed that being as nice as possible to everyone and always being available would make me a valuable and respected member of a team. I didn’t know or perhaps didn’t want to know that I was sabotaging myself. I suppose the only thing that would give me some hope of being called “wise” in some situations would be that I’m able to learn from those situations and do try to do things differently in the future. Like, now, I forget being nice and just act like a giant asshole to everyone I meet and it seems to work out just fine for me for whatever strange reason.
The thing I would say that I believe sets me apart from the masses is that I’m open to new information. I accept new things as they come to me even if it forces me to say that I was wrong about something (which I really, really hate doing). I’m willing to say that some of my advice here might be short-sighted because I wouldn’t fucking know. Anything I share, I share earnestly because I believe it to be true. Despite that though, I am willing and able to admit that what I believe to be true might not be the whole truth or even a part of it. Someone much younger than me might come along with an answer to a question I never even thought to ask. All anyone could do is to be open to such an occurrence. Forget wisdom. It’s just a farce that makes you lose sight of what really matters – sticking to the path that you want to be on and making it to your goals. You don’t need to be wise or even smart to do that. All you have to be is focused.
Take a lesson from Forrest Gump on this one and, who knows? You might just become the Ping Pong champion of the world.