When I Was Young, I Knew Everything*
When I was young, I knew everything.
When I was young, I argued with theories. I thought that my intelligence was the weight of the argument. There was the compulsion to drop name after name, theoretical concept after theoretical concept. I argued with the contempt and impunity that can only come from someone not old enough to be proven wrong. I was on a mission to prove to the world that I am right, and everything in it is wrong, stupid, and idiotic. Big words, too; words that, from the perspective of a youthful version of me, can summarize – and solve – the problems of the national Gessellschaft.
Then I grew old enough to take up a job. After three or so years of writing copy and etching a name for myself in the glass walls of multinationals and transnationals – from newspapers to BPO to advertising – I realized that I only “knew everything” when I was young. In the brave new world, beyond the shelter of the Geisteswissenschaften and the arguments of privilege that came with a chair in the classroom and a book from the library, there are some things I realized.
If there’s anything I can empathize with the bulk of young, opinionated writers on the Web who’ll fight tooth and nail for what they believe in, I’d (somehow) act like a big brother and ask them if they truly believe that their big words would pay taxes. If their arrogant swagger would get that promotion. Or if those sharp retorts put food on the table, pay the bills, or make one a good citizen.
I’m young (25 years old), and I’m as opinionated as any one out there, but after tempering my pen – and my enormous ego – with the fact that working people I rub shoulders with in the train don’t give a fiddler’s fart about my blog and my grand ideas about society, I realized something very important. It’s not what you know that counts; it’s how you apply that knowledge. The key to success is to translate that intelligence to wisdom.
I was never paid anything for big words and literary expositions, but for simple articles that people can understand. When I wrote copy, I was never paid anything for a big word, because the limits of the copy design didn’t allow the phrase laissez-faire. In meetings, ideas were never discussed on the basis of their grandiosity and complexity; but whether or not they could be executed on time and implemented within a budget. There were those times that I gave my all to try and impeach the President and create manifestos for groups of netizens willing to support a cause, but the rest of the day, I work in an office earning a living.
The stinging truth gets worse from here: nothing in society, no matter how big or small, was ever accomplished by dropping big words, by invoking grand concepts, the argument from that privileged position, or just being an asshole. If any realization mattered more, it’s that when I was young – and as I grew older – I didn’t know everything. Beyond moving along corridors in college there was something bigger that lay ahead: the school of life itself, where the big words and theories bought you a paycheck that’s gone in 10 days. Intelligence makes you think you’re wise and you’ll never compromise, and it’s kind of hard to come to terms with reality when you’re out of touch with it.
Indeed, the very core concepts of the things I was taught remained with me – and are the very things I apply in my field in advertising and marketing – but the big words and the verbose theories remain anecdotal. They facilitated learning, but they were never the lesson. The difference between intelligence and wisdom is that the former is potential, the latter is practiced. “Free market economics,” for example, can always be defined along the lines of Hayek’s spontaneous order or Misesian sovereignty of consumers, but to an ambulant peanut vendor along EDSA, it’s the freedom to peddle his goods from bus to bus without being rejected by the conductor. To a poor mother, it’s to “economize” the pack of noodles in such a way that it becomes “free;” watering it down to serve as viand. To a guy with an office job, “free market economics” is the 15th and the 30th.
Which brings me to something that has been gnawing my brain for quite a while now; shouldn’t our writing be for them? To make them understand, to empower them? Do our thoughts have value if they float around in cyberspace for purposes of proving intelligence? Indeed not.
When I was young, I knew everything. As I grew older I realized I knew very little of everything: snippets of physics here, bits of sociology there, pieces of politics every now and then. Fiery idealism, tempered with a cold dose of hard reality, can either make a brittle rod of failure and missed opportunities, or the sharp-edged sword you need to succeed in a battle against life itself.
* – From “The Freshmen,” by The Verve Pipe