The error of youth is to believe that intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe experience is a substitute for intelligence.
Lyman Bryson (1888-1959)
I was at a retirement party recently celebrating a friend’s thirty years on the job. It was a big send off for a man who enjoyed a very successful police career. He had a big impact on his community and a great influence on many officers, myself included. As the event turned into a roast a young officer stepped up and said,
Last week I saw Bill (I will call him Bill because that is his name) in the squad room staring at the street gang identification poster. He was standing and studying the pictures, symbols and colors of the Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, Surenos, MS 13, all of the gangs in the area. With a very confused look on his face he finally shook his head, turned the poster over and said, ‘The Jets and Sharks have to be here somewhere!’
I loved that joke and immediately filed it away to use at a future retirement party (with a different audience of course), but what does it say about our attitude toward age and experience? How do you look at the veterans or the bosses at work? Do you see potential mentors that you can learn from, or do you see old school dinosaurs that have lost touch? The decision to honor their age and experience is yours to make. If you look at the more seasoned people around you for what they have to offer you will begin to see more and more of it. This is true even when you become the old guy making a choice on how open your mind will be to what those with less experience have to offer. Sometimes the wisdom of age and experience, or the intelligence of youthful new ideas are obvious, other times you must be willing to look for it.
If we accept honoring our parents as the basis of this principal it reveals God’s wisdom in a way that you may not have considered before. If you think about what honoring and respecting your parents looks like in the various stages of life it lays out something like this. As a young child you show honor and respect simply through obedience as you are taken care of by your parents. As an adolescent you begin to contribute more, but it is still a relationship where obedience is the center. Into adulthood your relationship becomes more ‘peer-to-peer,’ you show honor and respect by sharing life with your parents and by valuing their counsel. As they grow into old age, roles often reverse with you becoming the one who provides care.
It is not hard to see how the stages of maturity; childhood, adolescence, adulthood and even old age, can apply to the stages of development in our work life. Wherever you are, challenge yourself to look for what others have to offer, no matter what stage they are in. Robert Vernon says this will result in “wisdom, tranquility and continuity.” The wisdom gained from your peers, the tranquility in the organization that comes from mutual respect, and the continuity that comes from combining the innovations of the young with the experience of the old to move the organization forward.
Will Rogers is well known for saying he never met a man he didn’t like, but there is more to be learned from the entire quote and the context he delivered it in. Here is what Rogers said in 1930, when he was fifty years old and 5 years away from an unexpected death in a plane crash.
When I die, my epitaph or whatever you call those signs on gravestones is going to read: I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I dident (sic) like. I am so proud of that I can hardly wait to die so it can be carved. And when you come to my grave you will find me sitting there, proudly reading it.
Will Rogers (1879-1935)
Up to that point he found something worthwhile in every man he had ever met and was confident of that being true for the rest of his life. A humble decision to find value in every person. A committment to respecting and honoring people, young and old, that we can all learn from.