I was given a piece of wisdom the other day (depending on whose perspective you look at it from) that I have taken into account. My older brother asked me about my blog and then commented on the ridiculous length of some of my posts. I concurred, but then the stubborn beast that lays dormant inside me started questioning his statement.
‘Yeah, but you aren’t my target audience’, ‘You just don’t understand me’, ‘Fuck you’ and ‘If I wanted the opinion of an arsehole, I would’ve taken a shit’. These were the responses that came to my mind in the instances following the criticism. But then I remembered that taking criticism was one of the most important facets of the creative industry, and it’s probably better to come from your brother rather than one of the refined individuals on YouTube or most talkback callers. So through this criticism I looked at my blog pieces and thought, yes, sometimes they are inaccessible for the casual reader. But how to change that? And would it be wise to change something that feels natural for me? Since then I have assessed the situation to an extent and come to a few conclusions. I can judge them for myself but really it is up to someone who isn’t so invested in the blog to decide whether it actually works.
More importantly, the critique caused me to think about wisdom and what it actually was. Wisdom is something that we actively seek and many of my peers admire someone who is universally considered ‘wise’. Wisdom comes with experience, analysis and an open mind. A bigot can never be wise. Someone who is small-minded can never be wise. This is a complete far cry from the innate belief that kids usually carry with them throughout their early years that anyone with an inkling of silver hair is automatically perceived as being wise. Sure, old age carries a certain mystique with it but there also can be a festering unhappiness with the life they have lived, the missed opportunities and the inevitable demise that awaits. So is wisdom reaching a certain age with satisfaction of the journey they have nearly completed? Or is wisdom something that is not achieved but eventually just becomes acknowledged by other people?
A word on wisdom…
Firstly, in the late 1980s, the Berlin Wisdom Project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development defined wisdom as having:
* Intellectual knowledge
* Factual knowledge
* Superior judgment
* Excellent problem-solving skills
* The ability to learn from experience
* Emotional resilience, or the ability to rebound from a setback
* Openness, or the maturity to be comfortable allowing the world to see you as you really are
* A deep understanding of human nature, including empathy for people who are different or from other cultures
I present several examples of people who are perceived as ‘wise’ under this pre-tense.
1. Nelson Mandela
2. Aung San Suu Kyi
3. The late Martin Luther King Jr.
Each of these tremendous figures hold many of the qualities that we see as wise however they are people who hold tremendous influence and have faced conditions that would have overwhelmed slightly more tepid individuals. Does this mean that people who have not faced a task that appeared so intolerable and challenging are not worthy of the title of ‘wisdom’? Of course not. We can’t manufacture events that allow people to raise above adversity, corruption, blackmail and injustice to simply prove that they hold the intangible qualities that a ‘wise’ man or woman holds. However, the more these leaders who are held in such high regard become associated with a time that is so shrouded in corruption and uncertainty, the more likely they will emerge as heroes in the aftermath of such an eventful. Mandela spent 27 years in prison for treason prior to becoming South Africa’s first black president in 1994, San Suu Kyi was a political prisoner (house arrest) for most of the 21 years following her victory in the 1990 elections as the leader of the democratic party in Burma and Luther King Jr. is revered as something of a godfather for social reform and the ending of African American social inferiority despite never making it through the entirety (although some may suggest it is still in movement) of the revolutionary African-American Civil Rights movement alive.
It goes without saying that these three people have received global plaudits for their life achievements in the face of tremendous adversity and would generally be regarded as people of great wisdom. But as I mentioned earlier, one surely doesn’t need to be brought up in tragic circumstances to be considered to be wise. However, maybe we have reached an age where those who have been raised in such fortunate circumstances are more likely to be tarred with a brush of self-entitlement and more of an expectation of success rather than one that was against the odds.
I think it is safe to assume that people are more impressed and surprised by those who succeed against the odds as their life stories are far more compelling than a kid who was brought up in a million dollar home with a good education and a good upbringing. Perhaps if that kid turned his back on a life that could have led him into the corporate world in order to chase his dream as a ballerina or a youth worker (not sure why I chose both those options), people would be more receptive to his story. Life stories can open our eyes to real human interaction and emotion. By listening to various people tell their story, we can gain a real insight into who they are and what they are about.
However, as eyeopening as these stories can be, we live in a time where the mainstream media suck every ounce of human motivation and misery out of every being willing to open their mouth and disclose private facts and it has unfortunately led to a growing cynicism throughout our society. Everyone has a story but is it wise to disclose this on national television in order to enhance their chances on a cooking show or for a few extra points in the ratings for the network? There is nothing more cringeworthy than a manufactured sob story that really doesn’t need to be said in the situation. The sharing of private information used to require the trust and understanding of another individual. Now more than ever it feels tactless.
This is a rather sad notion in my eyes as it is through developing a friendship and mutual respect with someone that you gain insight to their story. To manufacture an experience, a story, a background of someone in order to make something, be it a television show or a media personality, more intriguing is fraught with danger in terms of retaining the intrigue of private lives.
People thirst for more. More information, more transparency, more blood and guts. Tiger Woods, formerly only known for his incredible golfing ability, became a repulsive figure for his infidelity. Bill Clinton faced the same plight. Figures of history such as JFK, Eleanor and Franklin D Roosevelt and even Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King have had their past searched for every indiscretion they committed during their lifetimes. So does that revoke their status as our ‘wise’ ancestors? Or does it simply mean that we cannot look at a person and ever expect perfection? Of course not. We all err, we all have our vices and sometimes we, quite frankly, fuck up. Sometimes the way we err is beyond repentance but in most scenarios it just shows that we all have our moments of personal failure. It is what we learn from these moments that defines who we are and how we want to be perceived.
I hypothesise that wisdom is one of the most fulfilling intangibles that we can hold as a being and despite one’s own faults, whether it be a penchant for a certain substance or a desire to womanize and even commit that terrible sin of adultery (the thought of it alone has become impossible to ignore for even the staunchest man or woman) or other dark secrets, one should still be afforded the title (be it truth or a myth) of wisdom. Placing another on a pedestal is never wise. There are great human beings out there. Artists who are indubitably talented, writers who open our minds, leaders who inspire us into action and ordinary mothers and fathers who nurture their children and their communities to reach for more than the crack pipe or lead revolver. But these people are not without faults and thus it is unlikely whether wisdom will ever be something that is objective rather than subjective. However, confronting our own vices, whether we beat them or not, is another sign of one’s wisdom. This is because experience leads to something that is indefinable and intangible. Something that we cannot gain without challenging things, without questioning things, without considering things.
It is not something that can be manufactured. It is something that we have to experience to believe. In keeping our minds open we avoid falling into the easiest mistake we could make in our human existence. Ignorance through a lack of concerted effort to learn and discover. Ironically you could call me ignorant for this next statement but I would rather die with the people I respect considering me wise with enough to eat and play with than live a rich stupid fool.