The Wisdom of Old Men

“…that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” – Ernest Hemingway

I agree with Papa and speak from experience. One great battle of old age is to resist becoming too careful–without getting hurt.

And what about the wisdom of old age? That storehouse of experience may be little more than a reservoir of crusty habits. Habits can embody wisdom, but the world changes and the habit may not respond. My habit of treasuring a late-in-the-evening bottle of wine, or late in the evening anything to be honest, is becoming less tenable. Habits often drift off course but fail to short circuit the need for decision. With less experimentation, what worked in the past isn’t always the best guide, except that it feels comfortable. Comfort passing for wisdom is another of the illusions of old age.

The main virtue of age is the way a sharply constrained future changes one’s sense of what is important. Projects must be shorter, and you have less time to waste. That focuses your attention. What you do is unlikely to have long term unforeseen ramifications for your own life. You’re no longer building a career, your influence is likely waning, you can no longer speak for the future. When there is less time there is less opportunity for diverging pathways and less need to build potential for some future opportunity.

You discard more, getting rid of thoughts, feelings, and activities that don’t work in the present. Old age brings clarity about meaning. There is wisdom in that.

Published by Dwight Furrow

Wine, food, and travel writing, philosophy, aesthetics

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