One of the great myths in our society is that the older we get, the more set in our ways we become. We have been convinced that, as people grow older, they become more closed minded and stop learning and growing. This is implied by the old axiom:
You can’t teach an old dog a new trick
Is this true?
I do not believe age is a deterrent to learning. The reluctance to learn something new indicates a person’s reliance on his/her familiar and successful way of doing things. No matter what age, it is challenging to teach a person something new if they are not willing to learn. Fear of failure fuels this unwillingness. A lack of exposure to better methods or knowledge does so as well.
My daughter Molly, when she was three years old, had a set morning routine. After eating breakfast, she would sit down to watch The Wizard of Oz and drink her bottle. She would often invite me to sit down to view it with her. Although I enjoyed this sweet time with my daughter, it was sheer torture to watch that movie again, but not for her. I lost count of how many times Molly saw that movie, but I am sure it was over three zillion times. There was no way of convincing her to watch another, her routine made her feel safe and comfortable.
Toddlers versus adults
Molly’s routine is atypical of young children. Does this prove that it is also difficult to teach toddlers new tricks? Of course not. These are just early indications that our ego likes certainty, predictability, comfort and safety. Molly changed her movie preferences when she outgrew or got bored with her routine. She proved the Tony Robbins’ mantra that “change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change”.
What makes things different between us and a toddler is that the pain of letting old habits go grows in proportion to our increasing reliance on them. This is because they are predictable, bring comfort and keep us safe. As we transfer more of our sense of well-being to our possessions, beauty, wealth, titles, etc. the more we fear losing them.
There is good news
Adopting new ways of doing things is not dependent on our age. This kind learning is enabled when we can let go of attachments. Detaching from things, people and circumstances that gave us comfort is not easy. This explains why life transitions are so painful. They call on us to let go of the old and open ourselves to the new. I have experienced several major life transitions, and I can report that an exhilaration of new and more fulfilling experiences has always replaced my grief from the loss. I emerged from these challenges a better person.
Although, just like dogs, some may find it more difficult to teach an older person compared to a younger one, it’s still possible for young and old to learn new tricks. This is important to know because humans were created to learn, evolve and contribute throughout all of our lives. Learning is never over unless we make it so.
The great thing about age is that we are exposed to the diversity of ideas and options that increase our knowledge of the world. The older we get, the more equipped we become to push for a change of the beliefs and habits whose usefulness to society has expired.
The Blessing of being over thirty
During the turbulent 1960s, I remember the popular phrase, coined by the student organizer Jack Weinberg during the height of the Free Speech Movement, that said;
Trust no one over thirty
I was in my late teens then and I truly believed I was better than those ancient thirty-year-olds referenced. I realize now Weinberg said this to shake up the older generation during the Viet Nam War Era, but it seems stupid to me now. I understand the passage of years prepare people to get a mature handle on life. That is why we should be more respectful of our aging process.
Chinese culture has always given age a connotation of honor. They do this because they value life experience. They don’t believe growing older makes you more rigid in your ways. Quite the contrary, the older the person, the wiser.
However, it is true that some of us stop growing and learning as we age. Exposure to these types of people might cause you to agree with this old dog hypothesis, but look around you, there are many who don’t fit in that mold. Just think of all the people who have, in their later years, run marathons, start new careers, or become artists or accomplished musicians. Learning does not make us age, in fact, when we are not learning, we age.
Our attachments bind us from learning. Let go of your attachments and you will have the freedom to grow in whatever direction you want.
Remember, although our bodies are aging and decaying every day, our spirit can be reborn time and time again. Let your life soar from your spirit!
May peace always reign in your heart.
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