My Dad has a running joke with my sisters and I:
“Just because you grow older, doesn’t mean you grow any wiser.”
Sometimes, I see this is a flippant way of saying it’s okay to act eternally childish, innocent and immature. It’s certain he’s a fantastic playmate for all his grandchildren. Yet, for the same reason, it could be more profound in that silliness and a happy-go-lucky approach to life can keep you young and preserve that vitality that bubbles with excited exuberance about paths untrodden and adventures yet to come.
On the other hand, it’s possible it could be more wistful, even though said whimsically: an admission that whatever age we are, we can make mistakes and as humans, we are imperfect and fallible. Perhaps it is the knowledge of recognising and accepting that fact, which makes us wiser. I definitely acknowledge the more I read and learn, the less I feel I know. There is a hazy blur with humility here. Who would be so arrogant to think they know it all?
Similarly, wisdom is something greater than knowledge, isn’t it? It has no place for ignorant arrogance, hasn’t it? It implies we reflect on past experiences and utilise our knowledge of how we navigated them (whether positive or negative) in order to better cope and deal with something similar in the here and now or future. As an experienced teacher, younger colleagues ask my advice or query what I think about something before deciding what to do. They appear to value my input. Is this about wisdom too? I sometimes wonder why they are asking me, but simultaneously, I love the reciprocal, non-threatening exchange of ideas. I equally value those colleagues I admire, look up to and respect as older, wiser teachers. I find it sad that as a profession there has often been ‘culls’ of the older, more expensive teacher. There is much to be learnt from someone who has worked in the classroom for over thirty years. Sustaining pace in that marathon is inspirational for younger teachers and it has saddened me to hear other younger colleagues speak disrespectfully of an older teacher. It is true that they may not shout loudest about what they are currently doing to engage said class or individual student, but they usually have an interesting or helpful perspective or strategy when you ask.
I hope that in future such wisdom is respected again. Ageism, like sexism, racism and all forms of discrimination, have no place in education. Whoever it was that wrote about Barry, well I like Barry. Listen to Barry: he usually listens to you and helps without needing a round of applause or a certificate. We can all learn wisdom from each other because none of us have very answer. Collaboration and communication across the breadth of a staff is paramount.
However, what also continues to baffle me (not only the disrespect for Barry, who hopefully hasn’t been sacrificed in a care home) is that humanity also has a short memory and wisdom seems scarce in the face of relentless news narratives. Some of these narratives appear to be controlled by certain voices. Today, I wrote this blog later than my fellow bloggers in the #DailyWritingChallenge and it is Sunday 4th May 2020. There is much speculation in the Sunday press about whether a sense of normality will be resumed at the start of June. This prospect seems shortsighted and strategically guided, not by some great Athenian deity, but by economy factors superseding life. At the same time as testing for CoVid-19 seems erratic and flawed and, it seems, inaccurate in some cases, we might question if mortality rates are accurate as some sources suggest deaths could be as high as forty eight thousand. Now, is this scaremongering, pessimism, or lunacy? It certainly isn’t optimistic, I recognise that, and I also recognise I haven’t mentioned how lockdown is impacting negatively on some individuals and it may be beneficial for them to come out of lockdown. But, it isn’t easy to say much positive about twenty eight thousand official deaths, is it? With decreased pollution and less manic racing around, there are increasing numbers of voices expressing enjoyment of the lockdown, as well. Will ‘normality’ ever be resumed as it was? I remain unconvinced and anyway, I’ve always thought ‘normality’ is wildly overrated.
The reference to the statistic of official COVID deaths in relation to wisdom brings me onto reflecting on the past and humans having short memories. My partner has just finished a book about the flu pandemic of the early twentieth century. It’s on my very tall ‘to read’ pile. I am surprised there isn’t wider spread knowledge of this past pandemic and if I am to believe what my partner has told me from this book, even though Coronavirus is different, we should be rightly concerned and vigilant about moving forward in a sensible way, in order to prevent a second wave of high death rates.
Today, on the same theme, I was coincidentally drawn to Ian Gilbert’s (founder of Independent Thinking @ITLWorldwide) retweet of John O’Connell’s tweet about the lifting of Quarantine celebrations in Philadelphia over a century ago.
Whilst I cannot envisage a parade on such a scale after Coronavirus lockdown restrictions are lifted, slowly, in the UK, we might hope that wisdom is applied when considering the future safety of all citizens, be they travelling to work by train, bus or bike, sat in a classroom, or buying food from a fast food restaurant. Will the two metre social distancing rule be relaxed? Anyone who has been in a school will be aware that this will be extremely hard to consistently uphold indefinitely.
As a final thought, in my world, a human life may be ephemeral in the big scheme of all things known to us, but it is certainly not cheap. I hope Athena’s owl is listening.
“A wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw the less he spoke. The less he spoke the more he heard. Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?”