Loss of Certainty = Wisdom

I consider the loss of certainty a sign of wisdom. I was full of certainty when I was 17; 20 years later, I’m full of doubt. And I’m pretty sure I know more now than I did back then.

It seems like people can follow two paths as they age. One path is to develop ever-greater certainty about the world–this is the stereotype we often see about inflexible senior citizens, clinging to the world of their youth.

My friend Don (who is 77) often tells me about how many of his contemporaries now spend all of their time watching Fox News. They seek out media that confirms their existing views–this isn’t unique to the aged, but seems particularly pronounced in the case of Don’s friends.

The other is to realize that the world is full of uncertainty and ambiguity, and to take a more forgiving approach to all aspects of life.

It’s up to you which path to choose as you grow older.

(This post originally appeared as a comment on my friend Lindsey’s blog)

7 thoughts on “Loss of Certainty = Wisdom

  1. I love this comment and was about to email to thank you for it. I utterly agree, and it's reassuring to hear that you know what I'm talking about. xo

  2. Great article, full of wisdom!

  3. I like to tell young people (or people who are just starting to turn their lives around from a bad place): "I used to want to know all the answers. Years later, I'm not even sure I know the questions. And I'm more than fine with that."

    I think the acceptance of uncertainty is more important than the uncertainty itself. It comes and goes – some days, I REALLY wish I knew how many kids I'll end up with – but overall, acceptance is the most peace-inducing thing in the world. (I think Scott Peck defines mental health as "dedication to reality at all costs".)

  4. David W

    Reminds me that the tragedy of youth is that it is wasted on the young.

  5. I just read this quote from Michael J. Fox, regarding his life with Parkinson's disease: "Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it. I look at it like I’m a fluid that’s finding the fissures and cracks and flowing through."

    I really enjoyed his autobiography – he's a model for acceptance and sobriety. Not an ounce of self-pity in his soul.

  6. Anonymous

    Good realization, but I think Socrates beat you to it by 2,500 years. I know nothing, except that I know mothing.

    Classics majorz rule!

    Or, as my grandfather was fond of repeating, getting old is not for sissies.


  7. Anonymous

    Ps, classics majors don't type too good on ipads in taxis.

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