Episode 31: The Wisdom of Experience – What I Would Tell My Younger Self…
At some point in our lives, most of us think: “I wish I had known that when I was younger!” We gain wisdom from experience, we learn things, we learn about ourselves, and reflecting on what we’ve learned is a good way to reflect on who we are and who we are becoming.
Danny and Randy explore the wisdom of experience – what I would tell my younger self…in Episode 31 of The Existential Stoic Podcast.
Discover some of the things we wish we had known when we were younger. Find out what experience teaches us and why it is important to think about the wisdom we’ve gained along the way.
The Existential Stoic Podcast, Episode 31 – The Wisdom of Experience – What I Would Tell My Younger Self… – available wherever you get your podcasts.
Check out The Existential Stoic PodcastYouTube ChannelHere.
Plato begins his dialogue, Meno, abruptly. Meno poses the following question to Socrates right at the outset: “Can you tell me, Socrates, can virtue be taught?” Meno believes he understands virtue and what it entails. He admits as much to Socrates: “I have made many speeches about virtue before large audiences on a thousand occasions, very good speeches I thought.”
After a relatively short debate with Socrates, however, Meno begins to doubt his own knowledge. He doubts whether he actually knows what he thought he knew.
“Socrates, before I even met you I used to hear that you are always in a state of perplexity and that you bring others to the same state, and now I think you are bewitching and beguiling me…so that I am quite perplexed…now I cannot even say what [virtue] is.”
In Meno, like so many of Plato’s early dialogues, Socrates is able to demonstrate to someone that they don’t possess the knowledge they thought they possessed.
Plato reminds us that all learning, all growth begins when we admit that we don’t know everything.
Socrates readily admits his own ignorance in Plato’s dialogues. I’ve always found this interesting and appealing. Socrates is not some divine authority with all the answers; rather, he is portrayed, as he is—a man who is curious, who wants to know the truth and who has committed himself to the search, but who by no means knows everything. (See my related article, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation, here.)
If Socrates did know everything, what would be the point of pursuing truth, of engaging in all the interesting debates he gets himself involved in? He admits to Meno that he doesn’t know what virtue is and hasn’t met anyone who does. (Check out my article, What is Virtue?, here.)
“Not only [do I not know what virtue is], my friend, but also that, as I believe, I have never yet met anyone else who did know.”
All learning, all growth begins when we admit that we don’t know everything.
We take for granted that the world is a certain way, or that we understand how things are, and yet when we are pushed to give a clear account we fail to explain what we claim to know. Why do we so often refuse to admit that we don’t know something or that what we know is perhaps not the whole story?
Plato’s dialogues demonstrate the importance of admitting what we don’t know. They demonstrate the role curiosity and perplexity play in fostering a desire to know, to understand, and to explore the world around us. Learning, growth—really any sort of advancement or development—requires being open to new possibilities, new ideas, and a willingness to explore the world around you.
(To learn more, see my related article, Are Hobbies Important?, here.)
Our world expands when we admit we don’t know something. Conviction creates a narrow world, one where only one interpretation is permitted.
The road to truth is paved in trial and error, in experimentation, and requires an open mind to navigate it effectively. We should all learn to be a little less certain, to cultivate the wonder and curiosity that expands our world, and to rediscover the love of knowledge and learning that permits self-growth and development.
We should learn to get comfortable in a state of perplexity.
“She composes her own poem with the elements of the poem before her. She participates in the performance by refashioning it in her own way…[she is an] active [interpreter] of the spectacle offered to [her].”
The more time one spends contemplating the meaning of a given work of art and/or the best approach (or theory) for interpreting artistic creations, the more one begins to recognize the close connection between our practice of interpreting artworks and the variegated ways our powers of interpretation are (routinely) employed in practical life.
We interpret our world because we are driven by a need to understand ourselves in the world—to create and posit meaning. We interpret not only to comprehend ourselves in the present, the moment, but also to comprehend, and thus interpret, the present as it relates to the past and to the (unknown) future. In an important sense the act or practice of interpretation is never final or settled, but entails an ongoing, open process of interpretation and re-interpretation.
The human being’s ability to interpret, to posit meaning and understand itself and the world it inhabits, makes it unique and makes its world unique because it is only accessible to other human beings (or persons). The human being’s power of interpretation makes it possible and likely that the human world consistsof many worlds that are varied to the extent that the interpretations posited by persons vary.
Nevertheless, these worlds are (potentially) accessible to any person and are (more or less) linked by interconnected and interrelated historical and causal factors. This restricted accessibility is due to language and the complex (forms or methods of) communication that make it possible for persons to say, report, and/or explain how they interpret their perceptions and what they find significant and meaningful.
The Emancipated Spectator
“Being a spectator is not some passive condition that we should transform into activity. It is our normal situation.”
In an interesting essay on the spectator, Jacques Ranciѐre defines what it is to be an active interpreter. The emancipation (or freedom) of the spectator begins once we are willing to admit the activity of the spectator.
Ranciѐre argues that the spectator is far from an ignoramus passively accepting what unfolds before her, but is, in fact, engaged in the activity of interpreting the events she perceives.
“The spectator also acts….She participates in the performance by refashioning it in her own way.”
When the spectator refashions the performance, she interprets it in a way that’s unique to her, that accounts for her unique life and her set of experiences, and that defines meaning and significance in her own terms. In other words, she asserts her power as an active interpreter of the spectacle offered to her.
“It is the power each of them has to translate what she perceives in her own way, to link it to the unique intellectual adventure that makes her similar to all the rest in as much as this adventure is not like any other.”
The emancipation of the spectator is the recognition of the spectator’s (and, indeed, each person’s) interpretive prowess that is employed whether she is active in contemplating and interpreting some artistic creation (e.g., a painting or a poem) or simply any spectacle life offers her (e.g., a given relationship or a specific action).
Ranciѐre thinks the emancipation of the spectator occurs when we realize that all persons are spectators who actively interpret their own lives.
We are all similar because we are active interpreters, even though such interpretation entails the transformation of a perception into our own unique experience. We are similar, then, because each person translates or interprets what she perceives in terms of her own unique perspective or point of view. It is the power to interpret what we experience in some unique, personal way that makes us all the same.
“But in a theatre, in front of a performance, just as in a museum, school or street, there are only ever individuals plotting their own paths in the forest of things, acts and signs that confront or surround them.”
Interpretation is essential because in our attempts to understand, comprehend, and translate the spectacle offered to us we develop a unique perspective or point of view—our own “intellectual adventure” that makes us the person we are.
Nonetheless, all persons share a common (cultural) bond because of our powers of interpretation and our general drive (and need) to understand ourselves, the world around us, and to be understood by others. Whatever interpretation we posit will therefore be accessible to, and only to other persons because it will be dependent on the methods or practices by which we express and identify what is meaningful (or what has meaning), namely: on what is say-able, reportable, and, in general, on language and the significant and significative.
Ranciѐre’s argument for the emancipation of the spectator suggests that being a spectator involves actively interpreting whatever one perceives, and thus we are all spectators or active interpreters in some significant sense.
Whether we are engaged in some creative act, appreciating some artwork, or even contemplating our own life experiences and perceptions, we are spectators insofar as each one of us has the power to interpret and translate his perceptions in his own unique way.
We are, in short, meaning makers trying to make sense of our world, ourselves, and the people and objects in it.
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