Young and Dumb

Power-of-NamesMy adolescent son told me the other day that “teenagers ought to rule the world.” After I stopped guffawing at him, I gave his manifesto some consideration, albeit though brief. Certainly, the mental faculty and emotional stability of your average teen is of some renown, as scientists have proven that the adolescent brain is incapable of logical decision making.

That’s a fact, not a criticism. Simply, not enough physiological development has taken place. Thus, it is impossible for a teenager to always behave or react rationally (To this I can attest – three teenage boys populate my home). But I don’t think today’s teens could do much worse with the world than today’s adults. We seem as immature as our children and grandchildren. Maybe science has figured out why.

Researchers say that no living person, in reality, is very old; because the cellular matter in our bodies is constantly regenerating. For example, the cells that make up the lining of our stomachs are only five days old; our skin cells are less than ten days old; and our livers regenerate completely in about a year (Depending upon one’s martini consumption, I suppose).

Even our “old bones” aren’t that old. In the course of a decade they will be made new, along with most of our muscles and tendons. In fact, only the cells of the heart muscle, cerebral cortex, lens of the eye, and eggs of a woman’s ovaries do not regenerate completely over one’s lifetime. The human body is constructed of some ten trillion cells, and most of those cells are young. Our bodies, no matter one’s birth date, average about 15 years of age…so…we are all teenagers.

Yet, the relative youth of our bodies is no excuse for maintaining emotional and phycological immaturity. We may not be born with the capacity to make healthy, rational decisions, but that is a virtue which can be acquired. Science, once again, has confirmed this fact as well.

In 2009, professors Dilip Jeste and Thomas Meeks published a major paper on their research into human wisdom. Among their discoveries were two obvious but enlightening conclusions. First, they discovered that true wisdom – that is the ability to skillfully apply knowledge and understanding to living life – is extremely rare in the human species. There just aren’t many sages or gurus among us. And second, those who are genuinely wise have the benefit of age and experience on their side – and more often than not, bad experiences.

See, you have to live a while, get kicked in the head a few times, fall on your face more than once, get caught in a self-manufactured disaster or two, and then wisdom – mercifully – begins to take root. Thus, the older you are, the smarter you should be, and the younger you are, the dumber you are! That too, it appears, is a scientific fact (It was Jack Weinberg in the 1960s who said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” – a marvelous anti-establishment statement. But Jack is now closer to 80 than 30, and I bet he would no longer stand by that statement).

Yes, youth gives us much of what we need: Audacity, vision, zeal, holy rebellion, and a good, healthy dose of revolutionary chaos from time to time. But like a fine wine, only time gives us wisdom.

So I guess it should be no surprise that our world is in its current condition. It is a world that values youth, childish rhetoric, toned bodies, and this month’s fresh face from L.A. or Nashville more than it values reason, understanding, and the invaluable wisdom that comes from age.

It is a culture that sacrifices on the altar of youthful stupidity the wizened experience of its elders; and it does so at its own tragic expense. For a society that will not listen to its grandparents or the voice of history, is a society that is doomed. There is a proverb that goes, “Old age and cunning will always beat youth and exuberance.” Well, for the sake of the world, I hope that’s true.

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