Getting older with maturity takes effort
"Older and wiser," the English expression advises. As I pass my 68th birthday, I'm not so sure. The other saying might be more apt: "There's no fool like an old fool." One thing is certain. Growing older is mandatory. Growing up is optional.
Tom Hanks' movie "Big" comes to mind. Hanks' character had the body of an adult, the mentality of a child. What a metaphor for too many of us: We mature physically, but mentally, emotionally, spiritually?
Consult newspapers like this one. Day in, day out, they tell of chronologically mature human beings doing things my cat would never think of, let alone do. You don't need to focus on capital crimes. The offenses of road rage, unkindliness to parents, children and spouses, putting material gains above human considerations are already enough.
An angry word here, an angry word there. Pretty soon you're talking about true incivility, creating the kind of society the Romantic artists, Thoreau and Gauguin, were all trying to escape. No wonder.
Hanks' character was at least cute. But there is nothing appealing about an immature adult, a teenager in everything but age.
There is another sense of big, though. Confucius, that fountainhead of Chinese philosophy, often contrasts the big person with the small one. In his Analects, we read, "The big person sees a question from all sides; the small person, only from one." Or, "The big person calls attention to others' good points; the small person, to their defects." And, "The big person makes demands on himself; the small person, on others."
As I press hard on the biblical threescore and 10, I think of a related concept of big and hope that before I join my wife in the next life, I can realize it at least a little. That is bigness of soul -- in Latin, "magna anima," from which we derive the term magnanimity. Or, in Sanskrit, "maha atman," from which Gandhi derived his title Mahatma, the Large-Souled One.
To become REYNOLD, the person the Creator designed to use his talents in helpful human ways, rather than Reynold, the person who gets angry when you drive too slow in front of him or upset when he doesn't get everything he wants when he wants it. In short, to become Reyn-wiser and not just Reyn-older.
Dear God, that's the BIG present I want for my birthday this year.
Reynold Feldman, a retired university professor, is executive director of Wisdom Factors International, a Honolulu-based nonprofit trying to help the world "wise up." His birthday was Tuesday.