Larry Banman – Mining nuggets of wisdom means listening
August 20, 2009
Periodically, I have used this platform to talk about the wisdom that can often be gained only through experience. Experience comes over time and that translates into what we refer to as aging. In our society, of course, we treat aging as a disease. I find that attitude to be reprehensible, but that is a topic for another day.
Sociologist Tony Campoloto talks about a study in which 50 people over the age of 90 were asked to reflect upon their lives. “If you had it to do over again,” they were asked, “what would you do differently?” There was a multiplicity of answers, but three responses dominated.
• “I would reflect more.”
• “I would risk more.”
• “I would do more things that would live on after I died.”
We rely on recommendations for many of the choices we make in life. We tell each other what movies are good and which ones are dogs. We rave about the food at certain restaurants and aren’t afraid to tell people about bad culinary experiences. We can’t wait to brag about our favorite sports teams and recommend them as a “can’t-miss” experience. Many of us ventured into a lifetime vocation on the advice of a single person. For heaven’s sake, some people make decisions based on a television commercial.
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For some reason, however, we are often reluctant to take anybody’s advice on the philosophy of living. In those areas, we often insist on learning only through going through a few hard knocks. It doesn’t seem to matter if someone is waiving their arms and yelling that they already tried that road and it led to a dead end, a cliff or worse. Nope. We insist that we know best how to travel that road. We seem to think we know answers that have somehow eluded the millions of people who have preceded us on that trail. We alone have the keys to unlock the mysteries of the universe.
Back to the recommendations of that group of 90-year-old philosophers.
I would reflect more. Do you ever feel that too much time is spent in “doing,” and not enough spent thinking about what you are doing and why you are doing it? I often tell the basketball players I coach that what happens isn’t the key. What they do with what happens is what is important. There is too much in life that we can’t control. If you predetermine what you will do based upon what you assume will happen, you live the risk of beings consistently disappointed. I believe that life is a series of reacting to the circumstances that come rolling down the pike. If you are geared for adaptation, your chances of success increase. Reflective and introspective thought, I believe, helps wire you for adaptation.
I would risk more. Do you think that important opportunities either have been or might be forfeited because of your fear to take a necessary risk? There is foolish and irresponsible risk taking. There is also a vibrancy in life that is to be gained by stepping outside a comfort zone. It can be as simple as inviting people you barely know to dinner. It could be changing careers at the age of fifty-three. It can involve taking night classes to make yourself eligible for a promotion at work.
I like to use the analogy of taking different routes while traveling. There is almost always the easiest route and that is generally called an interstate highway. No muss, no fuss, the miles roll by and after a few stops you’ve arrived at your destination. There is also another route. It takes you down two-lane roads and through small towns. You run the risk of detours and following farm implements. However, whenever I take the route less traveled, I am always rewarded. I have seen something noteworthy and most often been enriched by an interaction with anther human being. In a very small way, I think that illustrates the rewards of taking risks throughout life.
I would do more things that would live on after I died. Do you feel that you are immersed in something bigger and more enduring than your own existence? As a person approaches his or her final years, I think an appreciation of mortality is gained. The invincibility of youth is replaced with more thoughts of a person’s niche in this world. That naturally leads to thought of what happens after life and people react to that differently.
People start to evaluate their impact in the lives of friends and family. What will be remembered about a person becomes more a part of his or her thinking. On that note, I have taken to planting more trees. Even though I likely won’t be credited, I want somebody else to benefit from a tree that was nurtured by somebody who never was able to sit in the shade of that tree. I want to pass something forward.
Campo summarized the study by noting that what those people were saying is that they wanted to die living.