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  • Writer's pictureHu Eliot Young

Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom has it that the phrase "older and wiser" is a verity not a mere hypothesis. Convention has it that because one is older, the fact that one has more experience presupposes that one has learned from that experience and that one is therefore more learned than before. Of course, such a supposition hardly means that one who is older, is wiser than the next chap, who might be much younger; it merely implies that the one who is older is "wiser" than he was many years earlier.

Of one thing I am certain: having entered my seventh decade, I cannot deny that I am indeed older. I am also more forgetful. Maybe the maxim should be, "older and more forgetful." I forget facts. I forget names. I forget faces, although sometimes the faces I forget are vaguely familiar... it is just that they have gone through the same "ravages of time" that my memory (and other elements of "me") have sustained.

One quote I have not forgotten, however, is attributed to Mark Twain. It goes to this effect: "When I was seventeen, my father was a fool. When I turned twenty, it was amazing how much he had learned."

When I was eighteen, I read a novel by a popular writer of the time, James Michener, called "the Drifters." It was like an early 70's version of Kerouac's "On the Road" except the youthful protagonists were on the equivalent of a road trip in mainland Europe, where the concept of the Grand Tour originated, rather than across America. At the beginning of every chapter, the novelist placed a quote or homily that provided a foreword of that which followed. One I liked, went something like this:

"My father tells me that I should listen to him because he has had thirty years'

more experience. I tell him that he has merely had the same one year of

experience, repeated thirty times."

The corollary, I suppose, is that the father, like the mouse in the maze, has merely repeated the same errors incessantly, analogous to what the philosopher, Santayana warned us about: "He who forgets the past, is condemned to relive it."

One thing I have noticed in relation to growing older: One matures physically to a certain age and then, bingo, the decline ensues. Muscle mass diminishes, the body becomes more fragile, shortness of breath seems to be followed by a shortness in stature. Elders whom I revere, lose height like it was going out of style. While youth expand and lengthen, seniors seemingly shrink. My father, whom I remember as a strapping six foot tall gentleman and my mother, an elegant 5'11 lady, are now both about 5'7 as they approach their 88th birthdays. Ditto for uncles, aunts, neighbours, friends; it is not an apparition. It is not that they have lost symbolic stature as a result of some imaginary evolution in my mind, from their prior podium of heroic proportions to the world of reality. It is a real not an imagined diminution.

Speaking of myself, the "statutory" shrinkage  also applies. I used to be listed as 6'4 on the programs when I played college basketball. (Of course, those programs tended to be the equivalent of a legal fiction of sorts. All players, except the odd guard, seemed to be "larger than life" in the program). But now, I, who used to be taller than all three of my sons, am apparently shorter than two (and the inexorable counting continues).

All of the foregoing has given me the thought that maybe if the maxim "older and wiser" is to be given any credence, and if the fact of "older and shorter" has been established, then maybe it necessarily follows that "wiser and shorter" is also accurate.

In his 2014 "tell all", ' Flash Boys' (or was it 'the Big Short'?)  Michael Lewis disclosed the revelation of Wall Street shenanigans where brokerages obtained information ahead of their competitor brokerages because they had shorter linkages to the information and those expedited links assured them of more expedited information.

In other words, the transmission of information is quicker where the routing, from site of origin to ultimate destination, is shorter. Kind of like what transpires when sensations are experienced in one's outermost limbs and sent to one's brain and then reacted upon. If one's reaction time is quicker because of one's "shortness," does it necessarily follow that one's reaction time is slower due to one's length? If one can transmit information quicker because of one's compact-ness, does it follow that one who is "longer" cannot transmit information as quickly?

Maybe the "truth is out there" as they used to say in the "X Files." I have begun to notice that a lot of men of "a certain age" seem to have taken steps to appear shorter (ie. wiser).

Maybe they were all on to something well before I figured this out.

Some stoop. That is good for a couple of inches of lost stature. I have noticed that among the judiciary, whom I generally consider extremely wise individuals, not just because of their calling, many of the men began to lose their hair and take on what might be called "baldness" in the years preceding their appointments to the bench. Was this, perhaps, a recognition that appearing shorter, made them appear wiser? Most men wear shoes with next to no heels. One good chap stopped wearing socks years before his appointment to the bench. Surely that alone would have cost a good 1/4 loss in height. Conversely, (and maybe this is the "proof in the pudding"), women seem generally, to take every opportunity to appear taller. They wear high heels. They wear their hair "up". They generally have much better posture. Is this because they wish to hide their "shortness" and appear "taller" and thereby mask their intelligence? One can take judicial notice of the fact that most military men stand ramrod straight. They always appear taller thereby. (And we all know that the expression "military intelligence" is a paradox, right?)

Hmmm. I think I may finally be on to something here. But short is sweet, so, I gotta go now. That is a tall order, for sure.

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