Experience brings wisdom...or does it? Written by Brendan Mooney Psychologist
Experience is typically regarded as something that gives us something, or advances us or improves us in some way.
We can often feel like we have achieved something, or that our life is more fulfilled for having had it. We generally believe that with more experience comes greater knowledge about life, which puts us in a better position to make wiser choices.
And irrespective of whether our experiences are positive or negative, people often reminisce and remark that in retrospect they learned something about life or gained something from having had them.
However, what if none of the above is true whatsoever?
Is it possible that experience and wisdom are two entirely different things, and that they actually do not relate to one another?
If experience is supposed to make us wise, why do we still have war?
Surely we would have learned by now that war does not work and never will work to truly unite people to live more harmoniously with one another. And yet it continues, in fact there has not been one single day without war in some part of the world since World War II. So whilst we may be very experienced at it, we have not yet stood united as a humanity and claimed that it is something we will not allow ever again.
What if experience is merely the function of accumulating knowledge about a particular subject, but wisdom is much more than this?
Here is another example...
It cannot be that experience develops wisdom, because young children are capable of expressing great truth.
Hence what if we do not actually need experience to be wise?
Obviously experience is needed in order to function in the world, as we need to learn skills to live and work as a human being. For example, without experience we would not learn how to drive a car or for a surgeon to be competent in identifying body parts.
However experience ought to be given its rightful place as opposed to the superior place it is often given within families (e.g. ‘I’m 50 years of age and you’re only 10, what would you know?), within workplaces (e.g. ‘Who do you think you are coming up with new ideas, you’ve only worked in your profession for 6 months’), and within the community (e.g. ‘I have been a teacher for a long time so I know how to teach children’).
If we simply accepted that experience is merely the accumulation of knowledge, but that it does not in any way represent wisdom, a whole host of emotional issues in society would be prevented.
But perhaps it is very difficult for us to admit that we have gained nothing from our experiences other than to learn a few skills, particularly if we have invested a lot of time, money and energy into gaining those experiences?
Experience as a Confirmation of Wisdom
Have we considered that experience can sometimes confirm what we already know? And hence even in these moments we could say that nothing truly has been gained, only what was already there has been confirmed.
For example, smoking cigarettes is obviously an unhealthy thing to do. Why? Because we can feel our lungs do not naturally breathe smoke. But if we keep smoking, experience will simply confirm the fact that it is unhealthy over time, for example the person will cough frequently or eventually may be diagnosed with lung cancer. But ask any smoker and they will tell you that they always knew it was bad for them, and hence their experience only confirmed what they already knew.
Experience Clouding Wisdom
Is it possible that experience can actually cloud our ability to clearly know how to respond to a situation? Is it possible that over the years many layers can actually form making it difficult to detect what is going on underneath and address it?
Take anger for example, there are some people who have experienced feeling angry for 30-40 years, as a result of a childhood incident, who today will now call themselves ‘passionate’. In these cases anger has become such a familiar way of living for them that they no longer recognise that they are in fact angry.
Of course learning from our experiences is a great thing. But if we are really honest to what extent are we learning from our experiences or merely repeating them?
What if we are already born with all the answers? What if the only experience we need is to learn the skills on how to live practically as a human being, but that each person has an innate wisdom inside them just waiting to be tapped into?
More will be written in an upcoming series of articles on this topic. If you would like to read more be sure to subscribe to receive email updates.
BIOGRAPHY Psychologist Brendan Mooney works with adults, adolescents and children. With a genuine interest in people's well-being, Brendan brings a warmth, practicality and an equality that supports clients to truly address underlying issues and blockages that are preventing them from moving forward.