Monday, August 7, 2023

Age, Foolishness, and Wisdom

We don't know what we don't know.

It's a peculiar reality of youth, that moment when we realize that we are no longer children, and look at the world with newly minted adult eyes.  We suddenly see things anew, see adults as the flawed human beings that they are, see ourselves with an agency that childhood lacks.

This can be a time of wonder or sorrow, as we encounter everything as if it is freshly discovered.  No one has ever seen the world as we see it.  No one has ever had the realization we've just had about The Injustice of It All, or the Meaninglessness of Existence, or the Depth of Love.  

We are, in other words, fools.  I certainly was.

Well, "fool" isn't quite accurate.  A better word is "sophomore."  The word "sophomore" doesn't simply apply to one's second year at an institution of learning.  The root of the word comes to us from two Greek terms.  Sophos, meaning "wise."  Moros, meaning "fool."  With a limited data set defining our understanding of the world, and a shallow pool of lived experience, we extrapolate wildly, making decisions that to be the best.

Being fiercely attracted to people who are in need of "fixing" or "protecting" is one such error.  I was, again, such a fool.  Passionate?  Yes.  Well-meaning?  Sure.  But I didn't know yet how much I didn't know, both about life and myself.

Wisdom comes from listening to life, from a fullness of years in which we have experienced loss and failure, joy and sorrow.  It comes from learning from one's own experience, but also being willing to acknowledge that we do not know it all.  Wisdom continually learns and adds knowledge to knowledge, continually adapts, continually understands that it is limited, and that the world doesn't center around what you are feeling right now.

Age brings wisdom.  Or it doesn't.  There's no fool like an old fool, eh?

Still, when a culture stops valuing the insights that age can bring, it forgets itself.  It "lives in the moment," showing all the foresight of a fourteen year old boy, and all the emotional maturity of a tween girl.  When we imagine our past has nothing to teach us, when we silence the stories of our ancestors, both those passed and still among us, we commit all manner of errors.

Examples of this abound in the Bible, but perhaps none is so pungent as Rehoboam's folly.

Rehoboam, or so the story goes in 1 Kings 11 and 12, inherited the kingdom of Israel from Solomon.  Like his father Solomon, the base of Rehoboam's power centered in and around Jerusalem.  The relationship with the Northern tribes of Israel was tenuous, both during David's tumultuous reign and the Solomonic consolidation of power.  Northern insurrectionists challenged and tested the power of Jerusalem, most notably Jeroboam ben Nabat, who fled to Egypt during Solomon's reign and plotted uprising.

After Solomon's death, a group of representatives from the North arrived at Rehoboam's court, asking that the freshly minted king give them some relief from taxation, levies, and oppression.  "Remove this heavy yoke," they asked.  

The older and wiser advisors that had served Solomon counseled Rehoboam to show some leniency, to reduce the friction between South and North, and to buy goodwill.  They understood that showing grace creates grace, and that yielding and listening are necessary for reconciliation.  They also understood that the North represented most of the kingdom, and that there was only so far that they could be pushed before the connection to the power centers in Jerusalem would be severed.

But Rehoboam also had another cadre of advisors, young men who'd grown up with him in the Jerusalem court.  They were children of privilege, and filled with the rash aggression that so often defines manhood at that age.

Their counsel"different."  They suggested that Rehoboam should tell the Northerners first that his little finger was larger than his father's loins, a reminder that the Bible can get waaay earthy at times.  Then, the young men suggested telling the emissaries that Rehoboam was going to make life worse for them.  Make the yoke heavier!  Say, "Where my father punished you with whips, I'll punish you with scorpions." 

Scorpions.  LOL, bro.  Scorpions are bussin'.  Or groovy.  Or hep.  Or the bee's knees, depending on what generation of cocky young fool you are.

The voice of age and experience was ignored.  The passionate selfconfidence of the young was chosen.

And the kingdom that David had created and Solomon had built collapsed forever.  The outraged North seceded, turning to Jeroboam to lead their revolution.  That revolt succeeded, and the North left, taking with it the name Israel, most of the people, and most of the wealth.  

Any culture that assumes that learned experience is meaningless, and that a long-lived-life has nothing to offer?

The word for that culture? "Sophomoric."