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 to 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.