It's said that there are two sure ways of getting access to wisdom.
- Live next door to the Dalai Lama, or
- Live longer.
Given that relocating to Dharamshala, and finding the Dalai Lama at home, could cause difficulties, we can only hope that wisdom will come with ageing.
Even though Winnie the Pooh's owl is a go-to symbol of sagacity, and Athena is acknowledged as the Greek goddess of wisdom, there is no consensus on a definition of wisdom. And, while the exact relationship between age and wisdom is unclear, ageing is often associated greater greater wisdom. Even in studies where participants were asked to nominate individuals that they thought wise, the average age for nominees were 55+ – Gandhi, Confucius, Socrates, the Pope, Queen Elizabeth.
A laundry list of qualities appear again and again in studies examining the subject of wisdom, including:
- intelligence (including emotional intelligence) and knowledge,
- an understanding of human nature,
- emotional resilience,
- an ability to learn from experience,
- openness, and
- superior judgment and problem-solving skills.
So a link between age and wisdom is understandable.
The seminal Berlin Wisdom Project found not only that oldies aren't wiser but also that wisdom starts to decline around 75. When emotional factors are included, however, oldies seem to have a better shot at attaining wisdom than younger people that haven't had enough experiences.
The concept of wisdom increasing with age did not become a subject of scientific study until 1950, when psychoanalyst Erik Erikson created an eight-stage theory of the human life cycle. In Erikson's last stage, old age, people grapple with the balance between their personal sense of integrity and defeat in the face of death and physical disintegration. If integrity wins out, the result, according to Erikson, is wisdom.
In the 1980s, Erikson updated his life cycle with the knowledge that had come to him in reaching the age of 87. Erikson decided that the lesson learned at each of the stages before that 8th cycle in some way added to the wisdom potential of old age .
It seems that Oscar Wilde was close to the mark when he said, 'With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.'