Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Value of Youth and the Value of Wisdom

Mr. Cellophane hears a conversation about the beauty of youth.  Mr. Cellophane sees how all the actors of the world and many of the elder people he knows try to stay "young" and "hip" when they are no longer young and hip and can never be so however they try.  Mr. Cellophane observes that all throughout Facebook that friends are young and want to "change the world," whatever that means.  Mr. Cellophane hears a song called "We are Young" which basically argues that the young can change the world.  Finally, Mr. Cellophane is young.

Mr. Cellophane has a huge problem with this.  In all the statements above, not once is value placed upon being old.

Now, I do not claim that being young is not also valuable.  Young people are more recognizably beautiful (I'm David of Michelangelo).  Young people are impetuous and so believe they can change the world for the better.  Sometimes they do, as in the amazing change of the Civil Rights Movement.  But is changing the world always for the better?  Aye, there's the rub.  Sometimes it is not.

We can learn many lessons from history and history is not always good.  While many good events have occurred changing history, events such as the French Revolution and the Russian Civil War come to mind.  Lenin had grown old by the time of the Russian Revolution.  His followers, save a few, were young.  Napoleon was far from old (a coup at 30) and the backing of the earlier French Revolution was young.  These are two examples.  There are many others.

There is value in being old and I do not think our society recognizes it.  The value lies in the wisdom older people have through experience.  This applies immediately to our elders (so do listen to them even if you disagree with them completely) and to even older events and manuscripts.

The people of the past weren't idiots.  This doesn't mean that they're always right. They weren't always wrong, though.  On many issues, they're still right.  When your crotchety old grandfather warns you to not walk in shadows on the street in the middle of the night because some black guy's going to mug you, he might be wrong about the color of the guy's skin.  It's still a wise warning, though, because you could very probably be mugged.  Accordingly, take it in context.

Furthermore, in many cases, we've come to disregard many ancient philosophies and religions because they are old.  This doesn't mean we should disregard old religion and philosophy, however, because they can teach us something about ourselves.

Humanity, unfortunately, has a key component which we try to ignore.  Religions call it sin or desire.  Philosophies also take note of it. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Buddha, Jesus, Augustine, Mohammed... all tried to take note of this problem with the human soul.  This problem amounts to the fact that we humans are very easily capable of corruption.  We do harm to ourselves and others even though we know it will hurt ourselves or others. We can do much good but we can also inflict much evil.  Sometimes we can't tell the difference.  This is a part of "human nature" which many of us try to disregard.  We are not a blank slate.  As animals, we have instincts which we cannot ignore.  This is why we cannot achieve a utopia. Knowing this is wise, even though it's hard to bear.  Past experiences in history and in other people's more immediate lives can remind us of this and how to possibly avoid the worst calamities that ensue from this feature of human nature.

To put ourselves back on a solid footing, therefore, society in general and the young need to take value in the old.  That means we need to take value from history generally and from our immediate elders.  The old do not need to be young or hip because being older is valuable in of itself.  Through all the events you have led in your long and valuable lives, you have gained a wisdom and perspective beyond what those of us who are still youthful have.  Beyond your own incredible value, through your advice you help those of us who are young gain perspective.

Our culture does not take that into account at all today and that is not wise.

End Rant.