What’s the Use of Experience?

“They keep telling you, when you’re older, you’ll have experience — and that’s supposed to be so great. What would you say about that, sir? Is it really any use, would you say?”

“What kind of experience?”

“Well — places you’ve been to, people you’ve met. Situations you’ve been through already, so you know how to handle them when they come up again.  All that stuff that’s supposed to make you wise, in your later years.”

“Let me tell you something, Kenny. For other people, I can’t speak — but, personally, I haven’t gotten wise on anything . Certainly, I’ve been through this and that; and when it happens again, I say to myself, Here it is again. But that doesn’t seem to help me. In my opinion, I, personally, have gotten steadily sillier and sillier and sillier — and that’s a fact.”

“No kidding, sir? You can’t mean that! You mean, sillier than when you were young?”

“Much, much sillier.”

“I’ll be darned. Then experience is no use at all? You’re saying it might just as well not have happened?”

“No. I’m not saying that. I only mean, you can’t use it. But if you don’t try to — if you just realize it’s there and you’ve got it — then it can be kind of marvelous.”

“. . . Experience isn’t any use. And yet, in quite another way, it might be. If only we weren’t all such miserable fools and prudes and cowards. . . .”

— Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

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