In nothing are men more misled than in the deference...

The Outlook

In nothing are men more misled than in the deference they pay to what is called the wisdom of age based on knowledge of life. To age belongs the reverence due to those who have gone through the strain and stress and upon whom the hand of time rests heavily, but age of itself has no authority; it often means mere piling up of insignificant years. The value of a year depends on the uses to which it is put; and a man may count a century as his own, but gather nothing from his life except a memory of prolonged insignificance. Nor is experience clothed with authority by reason of its antiquity; its authority rests on its breadth and sanity.

The so-called man of the world often assumes a wisdom which his whole life has denied; after refusing for long decades to sit at the feet of life as a pupil, he declares himself a prophet because his hair is gray. No judgment of life has authority unless it rests on the broad observation of a sane man. Mass of experience is of no importance; the man who repeats each day the history of the day before, though he live to be a hundred, is a mere child in knowledge. Quality of experience is the only thing that counts; that is to say, clear knowledge of a large area of life. The so-called man of the world is really a child in knowledge; he knows only a narrow strip of earth, and he is an uneducated observer even in the little acre on which he has lived. Nor does the long experience of races count unless it is broad and sane; for races, like individuals, sometimes depart for a generation from the highway of health and sanity and lose their power of vision. What they learn in these periods of disease is not the order of life, but the disorder in themselves; not universal truth from fundamental facts, but the phenomena of pathology.

The so-called experience of life to which we bow as to the wisdom of age is largely a diseased experience reflecting a distorted image of realities. A thousand years' observation by sick or half-sick observers adds nothing to our knowledge of the order of things, however much it may add to our knowledge of disease. The fact that men and women who have made living a mere chance to build and accumulate and organize pleasure into a profession are agreed that the faith of those who live in and by the spirit is a delusion, has as little importance as the opinion of the preacher that the sun goes round the earth. It is not enough to challenge every man who sits in judgment on life with the question, "What do you know?" He must answer a more searching question: "How have you lived?"

Enjoy 1 free Sentinel article or audio program each month, including content from 1898 to today.

December 5, 1908

We'd love to hear from you!

Easily submit your testimonies, articles, and poems online.