There’s a concept I’ve heard of throughout my life: the older you grow, the wiser you’ll become. Of course, this is true, as my career as a student dictates. I’ve progressed to the end of my high school life, and I am about to enter post secondary. However, I wouldn’t call myself wise. Intelligent may be the correct word, but wise is something I am not. It wasn’t until this last year that I began to question what wisdom really is, as you would typically call an old person this. Do they grow wise, and that makes them smart?
“No, that is the great fallacy: the wisdom of old men. They do not grow wise. They grow careful.” – Ernest Hemingway
It wasn’t until two years ago that I was first introduced to Ernest Hemingway and his works. Yes, I had heard the name, as most people have, but I never knew who he was. I had never bothered to look into it until I stumbled across this quote of his. Hemingway was an American author born in 1899, who fought in both World Wars, even at the Battle of Normandy and the liberation of Paris. He survived two successive plane crashes in Africa after 1952, but died in a house he bought in Idaho from suicide.
You do not need an autobiography to learn how he came to his conclusion in the above quote. In fact, it’s as easy as looking at photos of him from his youth to his old age. His expression changes as he grows older, and it becomes more solemn or humble. His books even reflect this as time goes on. In A Farewell to Arms, the main character who fights in World War I in the same occupation as Ernest (Volunteer Ambulance Driver for the Italian Army), demonstrates the fallible truth about being wise versus being careful. It seems more rational for a soldier that has survived both World Wars to grow more careful than wise. Would the wise really go back to such a hell as war?
What does he mean though? Well, the easiest way to explain it, would be to reflect on your own life. We face adversity almost everyday, especially in our young lives as students. Every situation must be handled in a calm and collected manner, lest it blow up out of hand. After every trial we face, some say we grow wiser, but it is not the wisdom that guides us through to resolution. We act carefully, as to avoid conflict that we have faced in the past. When it is encountered, cautious steps are taken to ensure a proper and safe way to get out of trouble.
This quote, author, and the works he wrote have also affected me personally. I’ve stopped thinking myself to be the wise student who can pick a side of an argument and defend it. Now, I find myself not picking a side, and instead, being careful. I weigh my options, and make decisions that are not made on impulse, but on considered facts and potential effects. Not bias. I look up to the characters in his novel’s, as though they may not be perfect, they are still human, making the same mistakes that I do. They only difference is that these characters are typically older, and have had time to learn about wisdom; I’ve only had a few years (and I’m not a fictional character).
Finally, I’ve learned from Hemingway that life is too short to stand around being too careful in my youth. I still have an entire life before I grow white hair and truly “grow careful” in the place of wisdom. Ernest went on safaris and enjoyed the life he was given until his 60s, when he became depressed with the diseases he had gotten genetically. The ensuing depression stemmed from the medicine he took. If there’s one thing that he never did, however, it was worry about his future. Hemingway lived everyday in the moment. To his last breath. I hope that as my youth carries on, I too will be as adventurous as him, and grow as careful as the old men he foretells.
“How Ernest Hemingway Taught the World to Drink.” Thedailybeast, 21 July 2016, www.thedailybeast.com/how-ernest-hemingway-taught-the-world-to-drink. Accessed 12 Sept. 2017