March 11, 2021

Sight that Might Improve with Age

When we are willfully blind, it is in the presence of information that we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know…Our blindness grows out of the small, daily decisions that we make, which embed us more snugly inside our affirming thoughts and values.  And what’s more frightening is that as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty.  We think we see more – even as the landscape shrinks. (Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness, 2011)

Our default neural setting is tradition and habit.  Our more adaptive responses probably lie in breaks from tradition and habit.  Getting into that adaptive response requires new information, cultural clues, psychological flexibility, and deliberation.  We must be open to change. We need to be willing to break habits – either habits of action or barely conscious habits of thought.  Uncertainty can cure us of habit. (Stephen S. Hall, WISDOM: From Philosophy to Neuroscience, 2010)

Older adults are more socially astute than younger people when it comes to sizing up an emotionally conflicted situation.  They are better able to make decisions that preserve an interpersonal relationship.  They are more able to behave in a more emotionally evenhanded manner than are young people.  As we grow older, we grow more emotionally supple – we are able to adjust to a changing situation on the basis of our emotional intelligence and prior experience, and therefore make better decisions on average than do young people.  Older people are, in short, more effective problem solvers, in a way that very much aligns with psychological notions of wisdom. (Fredda Blanchard-Fields, social psychologist at Georgia Institute of Technology)

Wisdom can serve as a guide to helping us make the best possible decisions at junctures of great importance.  With an added awareness of mortality, it can get us to slow down long enough to think about actions and consequences.  It can help us frame problems in a different way, allowing us to see differently. (Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness, 2011)

What is real wisdom? It comes from life experience, well-digested.  It’s not what comes from reading great books.  When it comes to understanding life, experiential learning is the only worthwhile kind; everything else is hearsay. (Joan Erikson, at age 87)

  1. What have you become aware of that you didn’t know earlier in your life?
  2. What uncomfortable truth have you finally admitted?
  3. What significant event caused you to see many things differently?
  4. What person(s) have you allowed to disturb your familiar assumptions?
  5. What life events have been learning experiences?
  6. What have you learned that people in general resist knowing?
  7. What have you learned that has given you more peace of mind?
  8. What aspect of aging has made you more willing to be more honest about reality?

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