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.


5 thoughts on “Does being older and being experienced mean the same?

  1. Fair enough. Modern youth has access to much more information and at speeds unimaginable in the older days. I enjoy watching such exchanges and rarely use my age or experience to bludgeon my way, but I don’t get any opportunity any way. Here is a story from one of my great heroes, Joseph Campbell.
    “I had a very amusing experience once lecturing in the Pacific North-west. I was talking about Dante’s view of the ages of man – he too, came up with an astrological schema for the great cycle of life.

    “Unlike the Yeatses with their lunar metaphor, Dante likens life to the daily transit of the sun. He names four ages, each of which corresponds to a time of the day, and ah of which has its proper set of virtues. The first is infancy, which goes to the age of twenty-five, would you believe. The qualities for infancy are obedience, a sense of shame, comeliness of appearance, and sweetness of conduct. This is the morning.

    “Then you come, at the age of twenty five, to what he calls maturity, and this stage will last to year forty-five. You have reached the high moment of life, and for this stage he names the values of the medieval knight: temperance, courage, love, courtesy, and loyalty. When you have lived your life in terms of what the society asks of you , you will come to a moment at midcareer, at around thirty-five, when you will actually have the experience of what, formerly, you had simply been taught; then you are eligible to teach. This is the afternoon.

    “Dante calls the age from forty-five to seventy the age of wisdom. In India, the wise get sent out to the forest; not here in the West. Here we expect the aged to stay in society, look around with a critical eye, and share the benefit of their experience. At this stage, the qualities are wisdom, justice, generosity, and humor or cheerfulness. After all, you have got nothing to lose. You’ve reached the evening.

    “From seventy on he calls decrepitude, and the qualities are looking back over your life with gratitude and forward to death as a return home. Now it is night.

    “This little schedule, this life pattern – this is mythos.

    “In any case, when I’d finished my lecture up in Seattle, one young lady came up to me, and she said very seriously, “Oh, Mr. Campbell, you just don’t know about the modern generation. We go directly from infancy to wisdom.”

    “I said, “That is great. All you’ve missed is life.”

  2. And what id one does not agree with your definitions since they are not universally acceptable? Isn’t it a bit like saying “For the sake of this discussion the sky is lime green” regardless of its real color? I do agree that wisdom and experience are entirely different in as mush as all wisdom comes from experience but not all experience begets wisdom.

  3. With age goes experience, still it doesn’t necessarily make the elder right. I tend to use the expression, “You can’t unring a bell.”
    blessings ~ maxi

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