Old dogs, new tricks

Spending time with some older people lately, I have been thinking about the old adage: “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I have never had an old dog. Well at least not that I can remember.

I had a dog growing up that passed away when I was like 7 years old. And then my family never got a dog again. I somewhat regret that. I think there’s a lot you can learn about life from having a dog. It also seems fun and loving. And calming. And this is a wrap up to this overall aside, but I kinda want to get a dog. I have been told by multiple people that my life would be better if I had a dog. That it would be a stabilizing force. I feel like I am not quite ready for that — but soon I hope I will be. I am about to move to a new city, and I am not sure how long I am going to spend there. But I have been traveling a lot lately and been craving a bit of routine and stability. I have about a month left of travel — and many flights between now and then so will certainly give me time to contemplate things. I am optimistic though that by the end of my traveling I will come to a place of mental peace. Of exhaustion, yes, but hopefully a type of peace where settling into a routine of sorts will feel exciting and new again. Weird how that works. You go from craving adventure to craving stability. The world is just a flow of sorts. A yin and yang. A tension between new and old. The world works this way but really it is your brain. Starts with your internal coordination and goes outwards. To the beyond.

Anyways, that total aside, that total aside about dogs perhaps means I really should get a dog.

But the theme with this essay. At least my starting point. The bumper sticker in the front of my head as I begin diving down what I expect to be a not particularly short rabbit hole — is this question, really, of whether or not old dogs can learn new tricks.

And when I use this phrase, I am really thinking less in the context of dogs but more in the context of humans! Now I think there is a lot that can be learned from dogs as briefly alluded to above — far beyond this one mantra, but that is for another set of lessons. It is probably possible to write a book on this topic actually, “what you can learn about humans by studying dog psychology.” I would read that book — not sure if it exists yet!

Anyways, back to basics here. Clearly a long wind-up.

The basic thing or set of things that sparked my interest here is that I have been interacting with some older people lately. People in their 50s and 60s. And one thing I have been thinking about is just how set in their ways they seem to be. I say this as both a good and bad thing. Or what appears to be. These are people that are so _themselves_, or at least so seemingly themselves, that changes in external environment or conditions seem to not really make a difference in their behaviors. Like they could be in a different country or interfacing with a different category of person, and that will basically not change their style of interaction at all. It’s a total disregard for environment and commitment to your intuition and internal voice that impresses me.

I think you can read this whole thing in a couple of different ways.

On one hand, and what is common, is you can read this as a negative. You can say…as I often feel in the moment…how do these people not have any ability to understand their environment? Beyond adapting, it seems they are not even aware of the environment. It seems like nothing anyone does really matters to them beyond being themselves. It seems like they will be themselves above all else, and not being themselves, not trusting that intuition, is really the ultimate failure mode. They seem to not have a sensitivity for life and the external world. And so they avoid that. They just stick to their guns. And sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But they do not have embarrassment in this category. You may have as a witness. You may cringe. You may wish they would act differently. But that is not their wish. But the only thing embarrassing would be to violate their authenticity.

On another hand, you may read the above as a set of superpowers of sorts. A set of content-ness. A set of dullness that is actually useful. Because it allows them to trust themselves. Their intuitions. Their feelings. They are in tune with what they care about and do not care about anything else. They are prioritizing. And there is something admirable about that. About someone who is willing to be themselves. Independent, however ridiculous.

The above tension is a thing that has been present in my life for a long while. And as I get older I wrestle with whether or not it is beginning to happen to me.

For why does this happen? Why do people become blind to the external world? Why do people begin to care less about sensitivity — about seeing the micro and the nuances and the details — and care more about their default reactions? Part of it certainly feels like laziness to me. Like it is just easier in some ways to always be yourself. Most if it though comes from coping. Coping with the world being complicated. And hard. And a lot of people not liking you. And some people liking you. And realizing that that game is tiring and lame and really not particularly fun at times. So a far better more scalable strategy for protecting your identity and ego is just to be yourself as this minimizes regret.

Changing yourself is hard. And by the time you are older, you may tell yourself the story that it’s impossible. You may say well I am this type of person and changing will be so difficult that it’s really not worth it.

But is this the right conclusion? When I am older, is that what I want to be telling myself?

Now for my commentary. I hope not. I hope I maintain my superpower and affinity for sensitivity. For being able to analyze problems and people to different degrees of abstraction, quite quickly.

At the same time, though, I hope I arrive at a level of peace with who I am and how I exist in the world. I do not think I have reached that quite yet. Like I have a foundation of sorts. I have an idea of what matters to me — but I have not yet been able to engage in such a way that agnostic to external stimuli I am consistent and content.

There are things you could do or say in front of me where jealousy will fill my cage. And sadness will fill my cage.

I wish I could be more like a pipe. Not a wall. But a pipe. Have written about this before but basically I wish not to reflect those emotions off of me — eventually at least one of them will break down my wall.

No, what I would prefer is to be a pipe where those sorts of emotions can just flow right through me. Such that I can choose what I want to hang onto but for the most part, I can return to homeostasis.

And so when I am an older dog. I want the ability to pick up new tricks. But I want a foundation I can lean on.

Aside, I do want to get a dog.


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