Las Vegas Sun

April 29, 2017

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Where I Stand:

Wisdom is gained through the ages, but also through continuing education

It is my birthday. Don’t tell anyone.

While I can barely remember my early birthday celebrations, I am certain they were not dissimilar in the anticipation young people experience today leading up to their own celebrations and that general feeling of empowerment and excitement that comes from sharing their day with friends and family, not to mention the birthday presents.

Over the years, the birthday parties of our youth give way to celebrations of milestones in our lives, usually delineated by decades. What happens annually in between are usually quiet affairs among family and close friends. At least that is how it worked in my family and with my friends.

As life marches on, as it inexorably does, those of us who are fortunate enough to reach decades that were beyond reasonable comprehension when we were children seem to prefer celebrating the birthdays of others — specifically grandchildren — rather than focusing on the ticking clock of our own lives. At least that is how it works with me.

Hence, the secretive nature of today’s noncelebration of another decade gone and almost forgotten in a few years’ time. It isn’t that I have had enough birthdays — by all means, keep them coming — it is just that they are coming far too fast for me to accept. How, after all, can I be this new number when I haven’t gotten my head around the last one which just happened a few months ago? Or so it seems.

Since I have always been a person who looks forward and not back, it seems to me that the only way all of this is palatable is understanding that with age comes wisdom and with wisdom comes an ability to keep it all in perspective. So with the view that I have most likely had more birthdays than are yet to come, here are a few thoughts on my special day.

In this fast-paced communications world of the 21st century, the ability for people to have the “wool pulled over their eyes” is exponentially more likely and alarmingly more dangerous. If ever there were a time to get this public education thing fixed, it would be now so that our newest generations can learn to be more critical and more demanding about the information they ingest from sources that, by their nature, strain the limits of credulity.

In other words, education is as it has always been, the linchpin of our democracy. If we continue to let it fail the next generations, our democracy will pay the price. Regardless of your political views, this recent election season epitomizes the problem.

Education is not just schooling. Continuing education has everything to do with what we see, read and hear. And, somehow, the public must be able to discern the difference between real and fake news, between that which is accurate and that which is made up to persuade the more gullible of our numbers. And that means we have to be vigilant, both on the internet and among the various sources we use to get information. Not every “news” outlet is a news outlet. Propaganda abounds from within our country and without.

A lifetime of learning must not be sacrificed to the ignorance of the moment. We learn certain basic, scientific truths that have formed the foundations of our knowledge and beliefs for decades and centuries. Without compelling reasons to abandon those understandings, they should not be tossed to the winds of some political force of nature.

Climate change, for example, is a scientific fact. Man’s contribution to that change is undeniable. Don’t let the charlatans of corporate greed sell you a false narrative. And don’t let political considerations turn you away from what science and common sense tells you otherwise. Willful ignorance is unacceptable — ever.

And, finally, one immutable fact is that life goes on. I always wondered when I was panicked about one thing or another in the early days, why those who were considerably older never got rattled. They have learned what only time can teach. Save the panic for life-and-death decisions. The rest will sort itself out.

We live at a time of 24-hour news cycles during which we are bombarded with “breaking news” that isn’t news, demanding of each of us that we react on the spot.

One hundred years ago we had the same issues but we didn’t hear about them for a few days, and we had an equal amount of time to reflect and respond. That extra time most often made all the difference. We have lost the edge of time at a time when we need it most.

What hasn’t changed one iota, though, is the need for Americans to remain vigilant and strong and prepared to fight back against those people and those ideas that would harm us.

That is where the wisdom gained throughout our lives can do the most good.

Gaining that wisdom is, in large part, a function of the aging process. And that brings me back to my birthday. It is customary to make a wish before blowing out far too many candles. Since Myra has me constantly on a diet, I will dispense with the cake and just make the wish.

I wish for others that their lives will be as blessed as mine and I wish for my friends and family that their lives will be so very much more.

And I wish for my country the ability to gain wisdom long before our time.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.

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