Monday, July 2, 2007

Give an Old Dog a Chance

Written by Lara from Life: The Ongoing Education


I don’t subscribe to the notion that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” To be honest, I think the whole concept of referring to humans as dogs – whether old or young – is a bit ridiculous in the first place. But adding to that a limitation on what or how much we can learn? Well, that’s just plain harsh.

I just finished helping plan, run, and teach a week-long summer dance camp. The participants spent seven days learning various forms of waltz, swing, tango, and salsa from professional instructors. They took classes from 9:00am to 5:00pm every day in stifling heat. The learned upwards of a hundred different variations in multiple dance forms, and even learned a few choreographies. And the average age of these participants was probably somewhere in the 50’s.

One of the dance instructors often comments that it’s hard to learn new habits – “especially once you’re over 18.” He seems to be convinced that the mind is closed once you reach adulthood, and that whatever is there is what will stay, and whatever isn’t is doomed to remain unknown. I’m seven years past 18, but I’d hardly say I have difficulty adding to my previous learning. So who’s to say that 17 years, or 47 years, or 77 years past 18 wouldn’t leave me just as flexible? Well, mentally flexible anyway – I’m not hazarding any guesses about my physical flexibility at the ripe old age of 85.

I work in the field of education, and as such, I’m a big proponent of lifelong learning. Studies have shown that people who continue to try new activities and learn new skills are healthier in mind and body. When my grandparents retired twenty years ago, they registered at the local community college; over the years, they’ve taken classes in photography, gardening, painting, and musical theater, just to name a few. Those two are always on the lookout for something new, and you know what? They’re going strong now in their 80’s.

Over the past week of dancing, I’ve seen firsthand the joy that comes from learning these kinds of “new tricks.” There’s a brightness that comes to the eyes of a man who feels the lindy hop rhythm for the first time. There’s a glow that brightens the cheeks of a woman who finds the Cinderella waltz she’s waited for since childhood. The sound of laughter is louder and clearer in a room full of people all making fools of themselves together, because really, no one knows what they’re doing the first time through an Argentine tango. And all of this holds true regardless of age.

Maybe if we could all better understand this joy of learning, we could think about growing old differently. Maybe becoming an “old dog” seems unappealing because there are no “new tricks” waiting for us. The promise of something still to be discovered offers hope and excitement, and that makes this puppy ready to give up the fetch and play a new game.

----------------------------------

Lara David is writing her way through life one day at a time, constantly discovering that the more she learns, the less she really knows. Depending on the hat of the day, she is a teacher, a dancer, a nanny, a photographer, and a drama queen. She loves new friends, so follow along with the ups and downs of her life lessons at Life: The Ongoing Education. You never know – if you stick around long enough, you just might learn something.

16 comments:

feener said...

loved the idea behind this, i too believe that you can learn OR at least try to learn anything at any age. i took up knitting when i was 32, i thought i will never get it. i did and have made a few nice blankies...

Surviving Motherhood said...

i agree with you, it comes slower than when you are young but it still comes. Well, thats what I'm counting on for learning Finnish anyway...

nutmeg said...

Lara,

You need to start selling your writing. This is top-notch.

The brain is like any muscle - ignore it and it will atrophy; exercise it and you'll look great in a bathing suit.

AuthorMomWith Dogs said...

I love to dance at my, ahem, mature age. I'm not quite as agile, but I still pick up new steps as well as I did when i was a kid.

Sensible One said...

I completely agree. I think the older we get, the more we let go of being afraid to look ridiculous trying new things - that it becomes more about enjoying the experience for ourselves. Very well written.

Desert Songbird said...

I've always subscribed to the idea that the day I stop learning is the day I die. Yes, it may take longer to get the hang of things as we get older, but I'm sure as heck not going to give up!

Lady M said...

New tricks in three-quarter time, that's us!

Tori said...

I am really glad that you articulated this belief.
I have always felt that the idea of no longer learning after a certain age was completely ridiculous.
There is sooo much to learn and sooo little time!
Thanks for introducing me to topblogmag Lara!

Wolf Lover Girl said...

Great post as always!

~ Wolf Lover Girl

Lara said...

i'm glad you all enjoyed the post! let's make sure we all spread the love of lifelong learning to others! :)

LaLa said...

Bah, My Grandma is 84 and sends me emails at work. I also taught her how to use phone banking (she doesn't quite trust internet banking, but then I wouldn't trust anyone at 84!)

She also walks 4 kilometres a day and does puzzles.

She is the most inspirational, and beautiful person I know.

She has never stopped learning.

Thanks for such a lovely post. x

Mama Zen said...

I totally agree that our views on aging are colored by the attitude that there's nothing left to explore. Great post!

Pistol Pete said...

Lara -

Good stuff. Keep it up.

SingForHim 94 @ Real Life said...

Great post! I've always wanted to learn figure skating. I don't know if I'll be able to do that much past 40, though.

Can I join your dance class, it sounds like ablast!

dancing dragon said...

This was a good reminder that people can keep learning at any age. I wonder if how open to learning an old dog is, is related to what his attitude towards learning was while he was younger, rather than his age. How do people learn how to learn?

Missed you guys at the dance week. It was always nice to see those moments when people's eyes brightened at learning and experiencing something new.

Misssy M said...

I started painting six months ago when iI turned 38- I'm counting on you being right! I want to go to art school when I retire at 60!

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