Another year older another year wiser – a common line you will hear in birthdays as one celebrates another year of living on this earth, and although it is familiar and rather redundant, it does not necessarily always mean it is right.
It has been an age old impression among many cultures that to grow old is to become wise. That is why elderly people gain the respect they currently enjoy because of it. However, no offense to the elderly for not all of them are right to be doubted, not all of those that grow old become wiser. In fact, there are others who never truly aged in the way they think, or worse yet, some regress while others come to terms with the banality of one’s life.
THE AGE OLD DEBATE
The Older We Get, the Wiser We Become
All of us can continuously argue which side of the fence we would eventually fall on: to believe such stagnated thinking or to adapt to a newer, more research oriented side. However, this is where lies the problem because even among researchers, the concept of whether or not we grow wiser when we get older cannot be established.
According to a research conducted by Professor Dilip Jeste from the University of California in San Diego, older people were less affected by dopamine, which is a hormone involved with the reward system of the brain. As a result of this decline, older people were less affected by emotions making them less impulsive, unlike older people. In addition, this has also lessened their reaction to certain negative situation which is normally seen as a disadvantage, but turns out, this can also be turned into a positive.
Jeste also added that this thoughtful reaction to negative stimuli is what others would label as wisdom. Moreover, study of several CT Scans of the elderly also showed more activities in four regions in our brains which is mostly connected to wisdom.
Some would also claim that wisdom coming from the elderly is generally a combination of three components: knowledge, reflection, and compassion, as mentioned by Dr. Vivian Clayton, the very first researcher to ask what is wisdom and how does age affect it.
Based on her research, she is on the same side as Jeste as she said that in order to begin the path towards wisdom, one should be able to slow down, and that this is mandated by the biology of humans especially when we age.
Not All Who Ages Become Enlightened
There are also others who do not believe in this age old belief.
Dr. Monica Ardelt, a sociology professor at University of Florida in Gainesville, believes that wisdom comes from how a person coped with differing situations in the entire span of their life and, it is when we cope well with a crisis which help us develop the necessary traits to become wise.
In direct contradiction to her beliefs, she also created a study that involved 39 questions to measure a person’s wisdom, and based on its results, unfortunately, age does not directly equate to wisdom.
However, there are some areas where elderly scored higher when compared to the young, but, most did not.
Dr. Ursula Staudinger, lifespan psychologist, director of Columbia Aging Center in New York City, and co-founder of the Berlin Wisdom Project in Germany, said that wisdom normally declines with age because of man’s task during the homestretch of their lives – coming into grips with terminality, which, according to Staudinger, focusing on the impending end of our lives.
Staudinger also adds that at this stage in our lives, we tend to rationalize the decisions we made in our lives making it seemingly more positive that what it truly is. Our psyches are trying to comfort us that where we are now in a better place, and that we should not feel regret which is in direct opposite of what wisdom should be. According to her, is the opposition of both the positives and the negatives within us; coming to terms with the bad choices we made and knowing that we could have done better, opposed to we have done well.
Technology and Wisdom: Has Convenience Destroyed Our Path Towards Enlightenment
Knowledge is considered to be a component that two out of the three researchers considered to be a component of wisdom. Taking this into consideration, especially that with information figuratively at our fingertips, could it be safe to say that modern technology and its development has affected wisdom to some extent?
Staudinger does not believe so saying that it does not tackle the core of what wisdom truly is. She also added that it may have changed how we perceive life today and how we assimilate varying ideas into our perception of life, but that does not necessarily mean it has affected how wise we have become.
Clayton on the other hand is on the fence about the topics; she neither believes it has and it has not.
Based on her research, it can be surmised that wisdom has been affected in terms of how much knowledge we accumulate over the years because unlike the years that passed, information and knowledge can easily be acquired in front of screens. One click and information is readily available.
On the other hand, we also have to consider the other two thirds of the equation: compassion and reflection. Both these are nowhere near affected by the advancement of technology because these are mostly innate in all of us. However, reflection may not be so lucky because with the rapid advancement of technology, modern man has little to no time to deal with thinking about the bigger picture.
It seems that technology has slowly made almost everyone into ADHD which is not a good news for wisdom, no offense intended.
It is easy to see that in spite the many research that has been put into this domain of old age, not a single one can prove or debunk the age old saying “Another year older, another year wiser”, and that is understandable.
Wisdom, if you have not noticed by now, is more of a subjective experience gained only through personal experience regardless of how our brains work as we grow old or how we deal with the amount of time we have left in our hands, and that is something that will be very difficult to prove in the long run. Regardless of how much advance our technology will become or how many more research mankind will conduct, such question might never be answered because no one person is the same with the other. It is one human experiment where we can control the variables, no matter how much effort we put into it.
If you ask for my personal opinion, I still have a long way to go for I am still not at that point where I can call myself old, nor do I consider myself young. I still have a lot of years ahead of me and I am willing to find it out on my own accord, and maybe in due time, I may also find out whether or not to grow old is truly to grow wiser.