Does being older and being experienced mean the same?

As a member of the youth population, I frequently hear things like “You don’t know what you are talking about. Listen to me, I am older and have more experience”. Even people who I have looked up to as role models are susceptible to this sense of ego and prestige. I don’t blame them, nor does my respect, love and affection for them become any less, because I know the dangers of success and the obvious feeling of entitlement that comes in the wake of an effort. It is only human to feel that way. The fact that I am turning a year older, compounds the problem for me, because I am well on my way to the other side of the problem.

Heck, just the other day, a former intern of mine suggested a possible line of argument in a writ petition. I felt it may not be that useful, but both of us had considerable difference of opinion. As I tried to sell my point, I came dangerously close to saying the exact same thing that I hate listening to, viz., “I am older and more experienced. So you better listen to me”. Thankfully reason found the better of me and I did not inflict that arbitrariness on the poor girl.

It made me reflect upon the term “experience”.

If I have to analyse the term in terms of a simple equation, Experience= Amount of time spent doing something X the wisdom gained from the time and effort so invested.

While the amount of time element is objective and can be clearly defined and understood by all of us, the wisdom part is a little tricky. You see, two people can spend 10 years doing the same thing. But one student could end up gaining more wisdom from those 10 years as opposed to his peer. I, sorry we, have to make room for the possibility that those who have spent less time than us in our jobs, have probably gained more wisdom than us, thus getting ahead in the “experience” race.  To acknowledge this, is not a sign of our incompetence, because as times change, the tools available to get ahead are better available and used by the younger generations better than us. We can, in fact, learn from them and keep ourselves relevant in the process.

Take, for example lecturing as a profession. Many years back the school of thought around teaching recommended that Indian teachers should speak while the students would listen. The kind of teaching mechanism that was built around questions and debates and interactive learning was completely absent. As the internet had not yet set foot in India, the teacher was also the only source of information forcing students to be listeners. Also, constructive participation without access to information was never possible. Therefore a speaker-listener dynamic defined the average classroom.

But now, I believe in being less of a teacher and more of a moderator. I like to hear the students speak and assess their level of awareness and knowledge and see how I can stimulate their growth by making deliberately provocative statements to initiate meaningful debates and discussions. I believe this method works because I was a student only too recently and constantly felt that I was being undermined by the kind of teaching I received. However, a friend of mine, (one who I look up to even now), found fault with me for wasting time using such a method and with 35 years of teaching experience in his profile, his argument against my teaching method was both obvious and invulnerable to dissent.

See, that is the challenge. I can no longer validate the ego and the false sense of prestige on the ground that I am as human as my role models who are its victims. Why? Well, it is because I have a responsibility to my employees, to my juniors and to the children in my life. I will have to resign myself to the non negotiable obligation to either convince them by reason or accept the contrary stand they will subscribe to. Either I do what is right or end up being a hypocrite and I dread being the latter. But heaven forbid if I ever say that being more experienced, I am right and the other person is wrong!

The fact that I am older only means that statistically, I am likely to die sooner than them. That should inspire hope also. But, if someone feels that I have something of substance to offer, it is not to do with the time I have invested, but more because of what the world has taught me in this small a time. What matters is simply how receptive we are and not how much time we have spent. This is a lesson I will have to live by and I expect everyone around me to hold me accountable when I fail.

I would like to simply end with the words of my paternal grandpa after he had lost an argument with one of his grandkids, “I had to concede. He reasoned it out so well. I became small in front of him”. My eyes tear up remembering these words, not because I miss him, but because of his enlightened practice of humility.

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