Saturday, 22 March 2008

Arguments against wisdom

Part of growing up and becoming an adult (I proclaim confidently from the lofty vantage point of a 25-year-old) is developing one’s ability to respond to adversity with an indomitable dignity. A certain degree of inner strength ...

... The grey hairs; the lined complexion; a hint of portliness ... the colostomy bag? – Ah, my child: all are but a small price to pay for the wisdom of experience.


So much for that. I have recently decided that I no longer believe in wisdom. My epiphany occurred (as so many do) on Platform 1 of Oxford train station. I was (as might be expected, jet-setter that I am) in something of a hurry at the time, attempting to catch the fast train to London. Bursting through the ticket barriers and onto the platform, I saw ahead of me – O majestic sight! – the pride of First Great Western’s fleet (the aforementioned fast train), already standing at the platform.

In retrospect, it should perhaps have occurred to me that train doors tend to remain open when further boarding is anticipated.

As it was, the (deceptive) green glow around the Open Door button lured me, siren-like, to my doom. If only somebody had lashed me to a handy mast, perhaps I would have been spared the ensuing trauma.

“Get away from the train!”

If ever the dark lord Sauron had told the intrepid Frodo and Samwise to scram, I sincerely believe, Peter Jackson might have wanted him to sound like that (obviously, there would have been no corresponding mention of trains, which, I realise, do not feature heavily in Tolkien’s fiction. Sauron would have been warning our heroes off that volcano of his, or something. Don’t dwell on this).

Upon hearing this fearsome roar, I leapt (in what I attempt to persuade myself may have been a not entirely undignified fashion) backwards – perhaps stumbling and tottering a little, just to further the already overwhelming impression of total ineptitude and slavering idiocy – and (balance regained) hung my head sheepishly as the train slid from the station. I think I recovered my pseudo-metropolitan nonchalance somewhere around Ealing Broadway, on board the next (slow) London train.


I have not, I reflect, felt anything remotely similar to that combination of mortification, reflexive guilt, panic and shock ... not since I was at school, probably at the age of about nine, being shouted at for having committed some misdemeanour or other by a previously unseen teacher. In both situations – young child caught misbehaving; "man of the world" remonstrated for endangering himself on the station platform – I felt myself utterly dumb (in, I suppose, both senses of the word), helpless in my distress.

The sensation, I perhaps need not say, was not pleasant.

In any case, it seems that, as a so-called adult (however cretinous), I have not transcended a childish susceptibility to rabbit-like paralysis in the face of unexpected rebuke. Indeed, my response was quite as powerful, despite the fact that this ‘rebuke’ was manifestly impersonal and in my own interests. My defensive layers of supposed accumulated wisdom and life experience melted away like the chocolate shell of a Malteser in the hot mouth of a grubby toddler.

We do not grow wise; we learn to avoid.

(That is to say: from now on, I’m taking the bus.) 

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