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Excerpt from Dreams

Time and Experience (p. 388)

From chapter "Wisdom"

Maybe wisdom comes from experience and time. Doesn’t that make sense? You have some experience—say a life-threatening disease— when you are twenty-four. Maybe this disease teaches you something in the moment, or maybe it doesn’t. But if you’re going to learn something from the disease, maybe that process of learning takes some time, so that by the time you’re thirty-four, or forty-four, or fifty-four, you have gained some sagacity, some discernment, some insight, from that experience. Maybe you gained some understanding of your own mortality. Maybe this understanding helped you gain some knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action. Maybe that took some time.

Or maybe you were in a painful relationship when you were twenty-four. Do you approach relationships differently at thirty-four, forty-four, fifty-four? Have you gained some wisdom through experience and time?

So, it is logically shown! Wisdom comes from experience and time.


But maybe not. Wisdom doesn’t always happen. I’ve known plenty of

old people who aren’t so wise. I’m sure you have, too. Just two days ago I was at the post office, and the clerk asked me what I thought about the health care debate. I didn’t really get a chance to answer before the elderly man in line behind me jumped in with his solution: “Everyone needs to be forced to work. There needs to be a law. Compulsory work. Everyone works for big companies, and big companies provide insurance.” I’m not sure, given the evidence, that we want to try to make the case that white hair implies wisdom. Hell, just take a look at the US Senate.

An elderly flesh-eating zombie is still a flesh-eating zombie.

So perhaps wisdom comes from experience plus time, plus a willingness to reflect on those experiences to see what lessons can be learned.

But that doesn’t work either, since I know a lot of old people—see again, for example, members of the US Senate—who have turned their experiences into lessons into how to come up with better ways to steal from the public to give to the corporations which own them. And there are plenty of older CEOs who have learned with time how better to work the system to enrich themselves and the corporations which own them.

Reflection isn’t sufficient.

On the other hand, I do know that because of painful experiences dealing with abusers, and because I have taken the time to reflect on these painful experiences, that I am at least somewhat better equipped at forty-eight to deal with abusers (primarily by ejecting them from my life) than I was at twenty-eight. How did that happen? It happened through encountering abusers, being abused by them, allowing them to manipulate me, call me names, mystify me, and by me ending up feeling bad about myself. Then I was able to reflect on the mistakes I had made—perhaps then a necessary part of gaining wisdom is learning from one’s mistakes?—and to have friends remind me through the example of their behavior that nonabusive relationships exist—perhaps then another necessary part of gaining wisdom consists of positive models from whom we can learn?—and to realize that if a relationship makes me feel bad about myself, I shouldn’t be in it.

So perhaps wisdom comes from time and experience and mistakes and learning from those mistakes and examples that life can be different and better and then some more mistakes and more mistakes after that, and then a few more mistakes. And then some reflection. And a bit more reflection. And then having some friends—including friends on other sides—help you along the way.