Through the eyes of a child, we put our parents on a pedestal. Even an abusive parent will still be loved by the child. The parent is the child’s world, that is all that they know.
As the child gets older, her world gets bigger. She sees the varying ways in which others live. What she imagines as perfect changes. No longer is her narrow scope of reality the only possible way of existence. Now, there are other possibilities. As she grows older and matures, she realizes that it is not an imperfect environment that she lives in, but an imperfection in the people she lives with.
She could live her life in perpetual adolescence, jaded and angry with the world. The hardships she was made to endure by her guardians, she could carry with her until her dying days. It was their fault she turned out the way she did. They denied her the opportunities. They held her back. If only she had parents like those of her friends, it would have all been better, maybe even perfect.
Or she could realize something else. Maybe her parents were not perfect, but they weren’t so bad either. In fact, is there anybody that is perfect? Now as an adult, she realizes they were only human, and humans make mistakes. They do what they believe is right, even when it is wrong. They do what feels good, even when it is harmful. They are not perfect but human, humans deserving of forgiveness. And so, as an adult she gives them what she can: forgiveness.
We can imagine perfection, but we cannot attain it. Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” A couple of centuries before that, Confucius said, “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” Our heroine in this story has concluded she is no different than the rest of humanity. And like her parents before her, all she can do is forgive herself for her imperfections. Knowing herself and the extent of her ignorance, she is at the beginning of true wisdom.
The day the child realizes all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; and the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.Alden Nowlan
The Canadian poet, Alden Nowlan, beautifully illustrates a way to wisdom. It starts with knowing who you are and then forgiving yourself for being that person. After all, we are all human and far from perfect. And though we can be incredibly strict with how we live our lives, demanding more from ourselves than we do from others, there is still room for forgiveness. We can forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and then try our best to overcome them. It is a process that if repeated can get us closer to the person we imagined ourselves to be. This is how we grow. This is how we become wise.
Feature photo by William Farlow on Unsplash