Column: The gift of wisdom


When Queen Elizabeth, age 92, delivered her Christmas message recently, she mentioned that she hoped she had shown wisdom. The dictionary description of wisdom is experience and knowledge together with the power of applying them. That certainly applies to the queen, but what does it say for us?

In an article by Chip Conly in the Saturday Evening Post, he writes, “If you keep your wisdom to yourself, it dies with you. But if you can lend your gifts of age to the next generation, that wisdom will never grow old.”

Another quote from the article is an African proverb, “When an elder dies, it’s like a library has burned down.” Sharing our wisdom with the younger generation can be a challenge. I can tell when they are bored with my “wisdom” and they begin squirming and trying to reach their mobile devices. I don’t know how they react when they read it on email. They probably just hit delete!

When we were an agriculture society, young men couldn’t avoid listening to their elders as they worked in the fields and tended livestock. The young women experienced much of the same while assisting in the kitchen and with other chores.

Much of my wisdom has been gained by listening to conversations of younger and older folk. The best listening times were when I asked questions and filed the information in my memory bank. Remember how your youngsters nearly drove you crazy with their constant, “Why?” They were using us as teachers, until somewhere around puberty that changed.

In Conly’s book, “Wisdom @Work: The Making of a Modern Elder,” he offers the following advice:

  • Strive for using good judgment. He quotes Will Rogers, “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.”
  • Use unvarnished insight. Experience gives you a good view.
  • Practice emotional intelligence, meaning that wisdom isn’t just what comes out of your mouth but what you understand from listening with your ears and your heart.
  • Be a good steward. He quotes Robert Bly as saying that an elder is someone who knows when it’s time to give rather than take.

He suggests that we think less about time gone by and more about time well spent.

Life is meant to be a training ground for the spirit – a training ground where we learn to transform the pain and anger we experience into love. If life were easy, it wouldn’t be very good at teaching us to do this. Being known for being wise is the ultimate compliment.