“If youth is wasted on the young, then wisdom is wasted on the old.”
–George Bernard Shaw
I am as guilty as the next guy when it comes to fantasizing about the “redo”. To go back in time and redo entire parts of my life, the times when I zigged when I should have zagged, taken a right at the crossroads and not the left, said the wrong thing and did something stupid. All of these moments are fresh in my memory and I replay them in my head at 3 AM when sleep evades me. It is a horrible habit and I think that rehashing all of them is incredibly unhealthy. After all, what does it actually accomplish to relive bad experiences except to bring yourself down? I can only think of one, the acquisition of wisdom.
As the Shaw quote clearly states, wisdom is wasted on the young. I believe that wisdom can only be gained through experience, often bad ones that result in a teachable moment. Youth is the time that you make the mistakes that you reflect on later. If, and only if, you learn something from it then and only then do you have the message, the takeaway that can lead to wisdom. Any attempt at wisdom by a teen, unless they can successfully convince you that they are a time traveler, will seem out of place and illegitimate. It just doesn’t fit. At least to me.
So how does the second half of Shaw’s quote work? It is a bit ambiguous and very Pigeon-holing in my eyes. How is wisdom wasted on the old? Most older people can’t wait to share their experiences and for the most part are ok enough with their past to effectively share what happened, why and the end result. My theory is that it can only be wasted on the old if a)they care not to share it, or b) nobody wants to hear it. I know when my dad tried to share it, I mostly brushed it off. I didn’t want to hear it. Of course, now I find myself talking to his stone, telling him how right he was about everything. His wisdom was not wasted on me, it just had a tape-delay.
I like to think I have some wisdom to share with anyone who wants to listen. My wisdom stems from a wide variety of fuck-ups in my life. My scars, of which I have plenty all have a tale to tell, even the ones that you can’t see. I am a walking cautionary tale. But it’s a tale I will gladly tell. But someone needs to solicit it because I am not one to offer up anything unless requested. Maybe that is how it is wasted, young people who tend to “know everything” are unlikely to ask therefore the available resource of wisdom is untapped and therefore wasted.
In closing, just as we have a world of information contained in a single cell phone, we live in the most uninformed and uneducated era in recorded history. Similarly, the older amongst us contain a veritable treasure chest of knowledge about how things happen, why and how to prevent them. But unless asked for, it will die off.
If my experiences can help just one person avoid a life-altering mistake, then all of my scars will have been worthwhile. Not wasted.