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I read this recently on Facebook: “Listen to your elders’ advice, not because they are always right but because they have more experiences of being wrong.”

It says something about the wisdom that is supposed to come with age – less to do with knowledge and much more to do with the ‘nous’ that comes from having seen a bit of life. Wisdom is about the sum total of our experiences, from which we have sometimes learnt painful lessons, added to the experiences of those around us. In other words, wisdom is a community’s possession and should not be limited to an individual.

One of the oddest developments of the past 30 years has been society’s over-reliance on ‘experts’. They appear helpful, but when things go wrong they are easy to blame and dispose of. In the same period it seems that people in high office are getting younger, while a media-driven obsession means that anyone making a mistake must immediately resign. Might it be that as none of these trends value wisdom, they may instead point to a cause of society’s current malaise?

In the Christmas story the people usually called ‘wise’ are the magi – people who studied the skies and made their plans accordingly. But the other wise people are an old man and an old woman – Simeon and Anna – who recognised the infant Jesus when his parents took him to the Temple. I wonder, how many times had they got it wrong before the day when Mary and Joseph presented them with their child?

Revd Dr Keith Albans

Director – Chaplaincy and Spirituality

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