Wisdom - The Ability to Use Knowledge Skillfully (Part 1)

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    Contrary to the popular stereotype of the elderly being decrepit, doddering, and demented, older people are often reservoirs of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Do you have a trusted older mentor to help guide you through the difficult circumstances of life?

    according to erik erickson, there are eight stages of life with developmental tasks to be accomplished in each stage. during each stage, erickson theorized people experience a conflict that serves as a catalyst for development. during these pivotal times, the potential for individual growth is high through mastery of the developmental task; likewise is the potential for failure.

    erickson chose "integrity versus despair" as the developmental task of old age (age 65 and above). this final developmental task is balancing the search for integrity or wholeness to avoid a sense of despair. when older people successfully accomplish this task, by carefully reviewing their life experiences, they obtain wisdom. if significant failures or disappointments have occurred in the older person's life, however, this final stage may be difficult to accomplish. instead, the older person may sink into depression, bitterness, anger, and despair.

    wisdom, then, is not a natural byproduct of growing old. it is something that must be cultivated by actively reflecting on each life experience (whether good or bad), adjusting one's attitudes, behaviors, and ways of thinking accordingly, and then applying those precious lessons to other situations that may arise. often the richest nuggets of wisdom can be distilled from the most painful life experiences.

    an excellent definition of wisdom is the "ability to use knowledge skillfully." it is one thing to have a plethora of facts or information readily available. it is an entirely different matter to know which bits of information are valid and then having the insight and skill necessary to use the knowledge to bring about positive outcomes.

    besides accruing with life experience, wisdom is also something that can be imparted to others through exchange of ideas. a timeless aphorism cautions, "experience is a good teacher, but its dues are heavy." how much better to avoid those painful dues and deep scars in the first place by learning from another person's mistakes! "very few men are wise by their own counsel; or learned by their own teaching. for he that was only taught by himself, had a fool to his master." (ben jonson, english dramatist and poet, 1572-1637).

    difficult life experiences have a way of producing empathy and tempering the brashness of youth. contrary to the popular stereotype of the elderly being decrepit, doddering, and demented, older people are often valuable reservoirs of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. "only when we are so old, only, we are aware of the beauty of life" (alice herz sommer, age 106).

    a mentor is a wise or trusted guide. for what sorts of life situations should you seek guidance or counsel from a wise elder mentor? who is your trusted older mentor?
    Last edit by VickyRN on Jul 3, '11
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    VickyRN is a certified nurse educator (NLN) and certified gerontology nurse (ANCC). Her research interests include: the special health and social needs of the vulnerable older adult population; registered nurse staffing and resident outcomes in intermediate care nursing facilities; and, innovations in avoiding institutionalization of frail elderly clients by providing long-term care services and supports in the community. She is faculty in a large baccalaureate nursing program in North Carolina.

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  3. by   VivaLasViejas
    Experience is a good teacher. Too bad it's such a lousy beautician, eh?


    Seriously, though, the wisdom factor is one of the reasons I prefer to work with the geriatric population. Having missed out on so much by losing both my last parent and last remaining uncle within four months of each other when I was only 31, I turned to my 43-year-old sister for advice without realizing that there were a great many life lessons she had not yet learned. She was the wisest person I knew at that time, however, and we wound up learning many of those lessons together.

    Now that she is heading into her mid-sixties and I am in my early fifties, however, the wisdom gap has closed a great deal. I still look to her for her perspectives on aging, on loss, and on dealing with grown children; but I've lived long enough to know that nobody on earth has all the answers, and to have developed some wisdom of my very own.

    I used to get a big kick out of hearing my sister say "Holy cow, I didn't even know that myself until I said it to you.......how cool is that??!". Now, the same thing is happening to me. And that is VERY cool indeed.

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