Monday, April 22, 2024

GET REAL: Arrogance of youth, elders


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“HE WHO knows and knows he knows, he is a wise man, seek him. He who knows and knows not that he knows, he is asleep, wake him. He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is a child, teach him.  He who knows not and knows not that he knows not, he is a fool, shun him.”

I read this Persian proverb in primary school. It never left me. A powerful quote is like a flashlight. It can light your way but, only a short distance ahead. For life to really move forward you have to have the sunlight of experience. 

Like all proverbs, this one comes with caveats. He who knows and knows he knows, may be a wise man, but a horrible teacher. Seek him all you want, but getting access to his knowledge could be like squeezing water from a stone.

Some people wake up real miserable. They are most pleasant when they are asleep. Sometimes it may be better to let he who knows not that he knows, continue slumbering.

He who knows not and knows he knows not may not care to know. Some of us are quite happy in our juvenile state and do not want to be disturbed by any thoughts too taxing.

And if only it was a simple task to shun fools. You may have to isolate yourself on a farm somewhere on the East Coast.  But if a fool is elected by fools to become president or prime minister then you have nowhere to hide.

Shunning fools is not an option. Interacting with them in patience, understanding and wisdom is an art I’m still learning.

The truth is that each of us at some point in time has been one of the four characters.  In the course of one day you can alternate between being a wise man, a child, asleep and a fool.  You can be wise in one area and a fool in the next.  Agricultural expertise does not bestow upon you a deep knowledge of history.  Knowledge of history does not make you fit to run a farm.

The biggest fools can be those who are wise men or women in a particular field or fields. Hypnotised in their own specific area of brilliance, they are lulled into believing that in them lies the fountain of all knowledge.  

Once this type of arrogance sets in, ignorance is not far behind. If you know all then you can learn nothing.  Arrogance breeds ignorance.  An arrogant wise man or woman is a fool in waiting. 

Arrogance can have the appearance of confidence and charisma.  It can make you bold and audacious. Both confidence and arrogance can lead to success. Both the confident and the arrogant are willing to take risks; to do and say things others will not. The difference is that the confident grow.  They are secure enough to take correction. The arrogant take correction as an insult and are constantly fighting to stand their shaky ground.

Arrogance is a common trait of the young. Not yet having enough knocks in life to make them cautious, and not having amassed enough to fear loss, the young barrel forward, eyes shut, ears plugged, heeding no advice. At some point you meet an obstacle which exposes your ignorance.

Hopefully this does not kill your confidence but tempers your arrogance.  As you grow older, you are expected to grow in wisdom and grace. Your perspective should broaden. Knowing more, you become more keenly aware of how much there is to know. 

The conflict and quarrels of the immature years fall away as you grow into a greater sense of the commonalities of life. Maturity should bring a sense of security. The mature don’t have to feel like they know it all.

This is an ideal; that a society would have the benefit of the wise counsel of elders. The young need the patience and poise of elders who can guide without oppression. A mentor who can give you the benefit of her experience while allowing the room to explore on your own is extremely valuable. 

It is a common complaint that the young people of today are too arrogant. We say they do not listen to wisdom and that they will not hear. If young people of today are more arrogant than their predecessors it may reflect the increased arrogance of the elders.

In today’s reality the arrogance of the elders is often as pronounced as the arrogance of the youth.  Sometimes worse. Maybe this is nothing new. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

I put it to you that  it is not the arrogance of the youth that is our issue. It is the arrogance of the elders. It is noticeable at all levels of society. The inability to learn, unlearn and relearn is holding us back. There is an inability to integrate our wealth of experience with diverse perspectives and new information. 

At the helm of society, this inability to innovate causes us to stagnate. 

There are only two ways for this to go. The youth will either recognise the folly of their elder’s arrogance and pioneer a new path of conversation, communion and cooperation, or they will raise the bar on the combative attitude of their elders. We will then see a new level of arrogance, defensiveness and aggression. 

Adrian Green is a creative communications specialist. Email


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