Do you become wiser, the older you get?
Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography
Opinion 1: Barry Kaufman
This month, in celebration of Courtney’s birth month, and despite the fact that a “birth month” is not a thing, we are debating the question of whether we get wiser with age. Courtney is, of course, clinging to the notion that the ravages of time will somehow impart wisdom on her at some point or another, while I, as usual, will present the facts of the matter and let reality do my arguing for me. I will then await Courtney’s response, assuming there is one this month or that she even remembered what we were arguing about.
Now before I begin, a giant caveat, since I will be indirectly insulting a large segment of the local population. I do not mean that as you get older you get less wise, just that there really isn’t that strong of a correlation between age and wisdom. And when there is, it doesn’t skew in the direction you think.
I happen to know quite a few very wise men and women of advancing age, but at no point have I ever assumed they got that way because they were old. I just assumed they started out pretty wise and managed to avoid anything that might have knocked the wisdom out of them. Conversely, I know quite a few people of advancing age who don’t have the wisdom God gave a Cocker Spaniel. They’re lovely people, to be sure—caring and honest, and some of the finest people you know. But suffice it to say they’re not going to be anybody’s Yoda.
Not to put too fine a point on it, when you hear a story about some fake Nigerian prince bilking someone out of thousands of dollars, do you picture that victim being in their mid-20s? Go ahead and Google “Scams Target.” Google will fill in “-ing seniors” for you, this phenomenon is so widespread.
I don’t want to bash seniors, but wisdom is not a function of age; it’s a function of wisdom. If you start out as the type of person for whom everything has a warning label now, your water has pretty much found its own level. But if you’re bright, inquisitive and curious, and above all lucky to spend a few more days on earth than the rest of us, you may one day find yourself with a little more wisdom than you started out with.
I like to think of myself as bright, inquisitive and curious, but then I also like to think of myself as roguishly handsome, so obviously wisdom isn’t my strong suit. And guess what? The rapid advance of ghostly white hairs across my beard isn’t going to do anything to change that. If I want to attain wisdom, I have to work for it. I have to look at the world around me, question everything about it, and find the small cracks and crevices wherein real fundamental truth lies. I have to meditate on the true nature of the universe and my place in it. I have to maybe stop drinking paint thinner.
But I don’t wanna. Because I’m not all that wise. And paint thinner goes great with Kool-Aid.
Truth be told, and since it is Courtney’s (sigh) birth month, I will accept the fact that I am slightly wiser than I was as a teenager. And I will accept the fact that most people who I do consider wiser than me are… older than me. But they didn’t get that way just because they’re older than me. They got that way by actually opening their eyes, using their brains and never once ceasing to be hungry for truth and enlightenment.
As Aaliyah once said, “Age ain’t nothing but a number.” Young or old, it’s on us to attain wisdom. I’d tell you how, but I’m still figuring it out myself. And Courtney, assuming you read this, happy birth month. I’ll knock back a few paint thinners in your honor.
Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson
I have started this column no less than a dozen times. Each time, I end up veering toward supporting Barry’s argument. I presume it was wishful thinking on my part—that the dumbing down of America is a farce—and I could find countless examples of folks who are older and wiser. But alas, I stumble.
I’m writing (er, typing) from the smallest seat, on the smallest regional jet known to man, en route to Philadelphia. This, of course, means that I spent some time earlier today in an airport. If ever there was a hotbed for unwise activity, it is the airport. And so it is only natural that I witnessed a man, well into his 60s, argue with the TSA agent about his bag.
TSA agent: “Sir, is that your bag?”
Man who should know better: “Yes.”
TSA: “Sir, can you move your bag onto the belt.”
MWSKB: “It’s on the belt.”
TSA: “Sir, it isn’t on the belt. If it was, it would be moving.”
MWSKB (with a slight growl, and a definite scowl): “I have to move my own bag?”
TSA: “Yes, sir, the table doesn’t move. And your bag isn’t going to move on its own.”
What made this exchange even sweeter is that I knew MWSKB. And I also know that he travels all the time. So he clearly knows the rules—has been to and through the Savannah airport countless (like, more than 100) times, but just chose to be a jerk today. Old, yes? Wise, no.
Wisdom is defined as the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. Therefore, as you age, you should indeed become wiser, learn from your mistakes, and build on your successes. While wisdom doesn’t necessarily come as a result of your IQ, it does come as a result of your emotional intelligence quotient (EIQ)—that ability to understand your emotions (and behaviors) and how they impact others. Likewise, how you respond to others can be correlated to your EIQ as well.
Earlier this week, while discussing my inability to find a plausible argument with a friend, I mentioned that I keep going back to Donald Trump as an example of age not bestowing wisdom, and I was met with an immediate look of dismay.
“Wait. You think Donald Trump is wise?” I asked.
“Yes,” he exclaimed. And thus we launched into a friendly debate around wisdom, wealth, brains, politics, religion, and all of the other things you’re never supposed to discuss with someone you actually like.
But, despite our opposing views, we did agree that with age, we should indeed become wiser. We were also able to agree that despite our age, we still continue to make mistakes. Finally, we agreed that as we get older, we are more comfortable admitting when we are wrong, which in itself is an example of wisdom. Now we are actually getting somewhere.
When I posed this month’s question to Barry, I was thinking about my impending birthday and my hope that I am becoming wiser. I got a speeding ticket last week. You know that moment when you look down at your speedometer and realize you’re going 40 (plus) in a school zone? And then you think you have nothing to worry about because you’re going the same speed as the guy in front of you? And then you see the blue lights?
Yeah. That happened.
In my youth I would have been sassy. And probably (definitely) would have given the officer some attitude, because there was a time when I was convinced that I was always right. Twenty-six years ago, when my father was teaching me to drive, I was tailgating the guy in front of me, and my dad said, “Cour, slow down.”
“The speed limit is 40,” I snapped. (Old, no. Wise, no.) To which he replied, “Doesn’t matter what the speed limit is if the guy in front of you is only going 25.” Fair point, Dad. (Older, yes. Wiser, yes.)
So while speeding in the same spot I’ve driven through for 11 years doesn’t make me wiser, my reaction does. And, as my thirty-thirteenth birthday looms, I can only hope that I continue to see the same progress.
Despite what we see in airports, on social media, at the water cooler, and on the campaign trail, there is hope. I found a little slice of said hope on Facebook; when a friend shared this story:
“The 92-year-old, petite, well-poised and proud lady, who is fully dressed each morning by eight o’clock, with her hair fashionably coifed and makeup perfectly applied, even though she is legally blind, moved to a nursing home today. Her husband of 70 years recently passed away, making the move necessary. After many hours of waiting patiently in the lobby of the nursing home, she smiled sweetly when told her room was ready. As she maneuvered her walker to the elevator, I provided a visual description of her tiny room, including the eyelet sheets that had been hung on her window. “I love it,” she stated with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy. “Mrs. Jones, you haven’t seen the room… just wait.” “That doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she replied. “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged; it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed, recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open, I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.” She went on to explain, “Old age is like a bank account; you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories. Thank you for your part in filling my memory bank. I am still depositing.”
And with a smile, she said: “Remember the five simple rules to be happy: 1. Free your heart from hatred. 2. Free your mind from worries. 3. Live simply. 4. Give more. 5. Expect less.
Older, yes. Wiser, yes.