There are few admonitions more tranquillizing than to be told you should have known better. Normally it is a reprimand delivered by an older to a younger person such as from a parent to a child. I am discovering however that the warning applies equally to the aged as to the young. The bald truth is that being over 65 years of age doesn’t mean one is a graduate of life’s pitfalls. Old age in spite of its silvery glamour and Epicurean likeness is as fraught with hazard of judgement as is youth.
Young people have at least an excuse for miscalculation; perhaps they really didn’t know or authentically hadn’t the prior opportunity to learn or discover the universal wisdom they are reputed to lack. Old age, after so many years experience and after so many alternative expositions of life’s underlying maxims, hardly affords as supportable a defence to ignorance or folly.
The wisdom of old age is generally attributed either to sagacity or to common sense; the one (sagacity) being personal and erudite; the other (common sense) accredited to instinct or native alertness (such as knowing when to run from trouble). The alarming revelation with the effluxion of time (aka, old age) is that the pertinence of one’s knowledge seems to dissolve commensurately. An obvious example is falling for on-line or door-to-door merchant hype which is regularly poisoned by delivery of banking and other critical financial information.
But these burning nefarious exposures do not constitute the most ignoble activity of the elderly. Indeed there is an apt defence of the unwitting victim in the criminal character of the assailant who clearly manipulated his target. The greater indignation surfaces in those instances when the palpable truth is that you really should have known better. This unblemished reality speaks not to the cleverness of a fraudster but to the stupidity of the older and wiser person. Being swindled by one’s own lack of knowledge is always discomforting but more so when the obstruction is putatively something one should have known. This distilled level of intelligence is usually associated with learning or experience both of which commonly figure in the life of the elderly.
Yet old age can prove to be a disassembling feature of knowledge of any derivative or description. It strategically approaches the limiting adage of theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) to the effect, “The more I learn, the less I know.” In fairness I think the more succinct comment is that old age doesn’t assure scholarship or percipience. This is a frightful recognition because it violates what is often distinguished as life’s natural inheritance, the corollary advantage of that unidentifiable transition from youth to maturity. The resulting signal of this evolution is not however guaranteed to bestow a mantle of acclaimed wisdom or even bare pragmatism. Instead the product of the elapse of time may be no more worthy than curmudgeonly behaviour, that stiff conviction of propriety no matter what the conclusion.