Five Good Reasons to Trust a Crone

Remember the crone, the multi-faceted older woman from fairy tales, the archetype from modern psychology? She’s the old woman, often ugly, sometimes malicious, and always possessing magical powers due to her proximity to the next world. In Robert Graves’s writings  she is the third side of the Triple Goddess: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone.

Her role is to give the enchanted maiden or the hero on his journey – the child of destiny – the magical amulet or golden apple to take them to the next stages of their quest. In her benign form, she’s the fairy godmother.

Data from the Trust Quotient 10,000 Survey

Be cautious of whiplash as we move from fairy tales to hard data here.

Trusted Advisor Associates has gotten more than 12,000 responses to the Trust Quotient Self Assessment Quiz. At the 10,000 point, about four months ago, we performed some serious analyses of what we had learned to date.

Some of the material was covered in Trust and the Standard Deviation. Another finding suggests that in fact you should trust the crone, and the old man too. The strongest correlation in our study shows that as we age, we become more trustworthy. 

Since this data is self-reported, it got me wondering what’s behind it. My first guess was that we become less self-absorbed as we get older, and our Self-orientation scores improve as we move away from Self-orientation and towards Other-orientation.

I was wrong. We actually improve on all four scores (Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and lower Self-orientation) as we age, and this holds true for men and women. Which begs the question: is everyone collectively kidding themselves? Or can we actually trust people more as they age? I believe the latter.

Five Good Reasons our Trustworthiness Goes Up With Age

Here are five reasons you should trust a crone, even though we are “sometimes malicious.” (The same probably goes for older men too, but I’ll stick with what I know.)

  1. We have nothing to prove. We’ve proven all that we need to in our lives, and we’re proud of it. We have every reason to tell the truth, and more of it. We’re not competing.
  2. We have greater capacity for intimacy (as defined by the Trust Equation) and fewer secrets to protect. Nothing embarrasses us.
  3. Our role is to help heroes and maidens on your journeys. We’re concerned about, but not invested in, the outcome.
  4. We have supernatural or magical powers, or at least very high wisdom, which makes us credible.
  5. And – trust me on this – even when we’re malicious it’s for your own good!

The Mathematics of Age and Wisdom

Time goes faster as we get older.

This makes intuitive sense if you assume time has a subjective flavor, in addition to an objective meaning. A year at age 10 is a tenth of one’s live; at age 50, it’s only 2% of one’s life. The rate of passage of time, measured by our perception of change, indeed increases.

Now apply that concept to age and wisdom. How much wiser is a 60-year old person than a 20-year old person? Three times wiser?
I would argue at least a multiple of six. If not more. Here’s how.

Let’s define wisdom in a narrow, simple way: the ability to perceive patterns from the data of life. And I don’t mean book-data. Any young trader on Wall Street can cite statistics about past bear markets. But the old traders will tell you, until you’ve been through one, you’ll behave stupidly when presented with it the first time.

A 20-year old person has seen 20 years of life. A 60-year old person has seen 3 times that much. Without complicating the math, the oldster has got 3 times more direct experience—more data from which to mine patterns.

But add subjectivity. A 60-year old has not only his or her own life at close hand, but the prior 60 or so years take on a new light. They become more accessible.

Born in 1950, World War II seemed impossibly distant for me at age 10. After all, it had started more than a lifetime ago—for me. At age 40, I was shocked that college freshmen viewed the Vietnam War as similarly distant. Like all boomers—veterans especially—the passage of time has brought those two wars much closer together.

My son, who is now 19, met my grandmother, who lived to 100. She listened to Civil War stories, first-hand, at the feet of soldiers who fought it. That’s one degree of separation from the Civil War to a PS3 gamer.

Yet that feels less remarkable to me now than it used to. I can now envision the 1920s far more easily than previously; but the 1890s still feel quite beyond my grasp.

So here’s my mathematical rule of wisdom: you can mine the history of 2x your age for wisdom.

Thank god wisdom doesn’t depend much on memory. That seems to work in the other direction.