Old dogs new tricks

When you get older, do you become more or less open? It feels to me that most humans become less open. Their identities become more solidified. On one hand, you could characterize this as very much a good thing.

The foundation has become stronger. Less likely to break apart. You know who you are, and who you are not. On other hand, it feels somewhat dangerous. Dangerous may be a strong word but basically the phenomenon I’m trying to capture is this notion that if you solidify your foundation, and stubbornly protect it, then what happens when the world changes around you? Would that not push you to change or be dynamic or adapt?

I meet many older people who seem to know who they are, at least surface level, to the degree that they seem basically entirely unwilling to change. If their systems have conditioned themselves to the degree that ya know they have made it 50 years in this world, then it feels unlikely that we could overcome this without significant intervention. Their whole world view, shaped by the systems around them over decades of conditioning, is quite hardened. It feels like trying to change that is an uphill battle beyond just one intervention or conversation. You’d need to really fundamentally uproot their entire way of thinking.

Because, well, most people do not seem to be innately interested in changing their fundamental ways of being. I at least have resisted this and often do resist this. For one its scary. For two, though, it may be quite impossible. Like the rewiring of my brain or perhaps the foundation has laid so hard that in order to pour new concrete you really have to uproot what is already there. And this is painful. World shattering.

This is where this notion of openness and appetite for learning and feedback and change. This is where this comes into play.

Is it possible, though, to maintain this truth seeking identity while also having a solid foundation. Having a foundation where you are you and that is the core of what you do.

This is the tension of my life. I have written so much on this topic. Nothing particularly profound, but at least a documentation of my journey through the maze.

I look at older people who are blind to this dimension. To the idea of self awareness. Like true awareness. It feels they are blind to it to me. Like nothing I could say or do would really get them to open up in the slightest. Like nothing anyone could say, really.

I don’t blame them. The systems have made them this way. Over years and years of conditioning. Pavlovian. Like dogs. Is it possible to teach old dogs new tricks? I am not really sure of this. But it feels like so often with adults I meet the answer is no.

I am not even talking about that old. I mean by the time you are a few years out of college, so many people I meet are already so jaded with change. They just want safety. They want their identities protected. They want to know they are safe.

That’s why they watch TV that makes them feel safe. They follow the news that does not challenge their opinion. They get caught up in drama that does not really impact them in the slightest. Like celebrities. Or global war. And they feel like it’s their job to stay apprised of this information that really matters nothing to their personal responsibilities or duties in life.

It’s fine to do this obviously. To enjoy entertainment. But call it that. They don’t. They tell themselves they need to stay apprised of the news. It’s their duty.

That’s BS. But try telling them that and they will get offended. They will start to cite their old age as a reason for why you should trust them. That is when things go down hill. When people start defending themselves using criteria that do no matter at all.

And yet…

And yet these are the people in charge of the next generation.

These are the teachers giving advice to our students. And yet they are so closed off to feedback, how do they know what’s right and wrong? And who are they to decide?

This is starting to sound like an attack on old people. It’s certainly not. There is certainly a wisdom that comes with old age. A lot of that in my opinion is through the experience of seeing ups and downs. Another piece of it though seems to be a freedom that comes with just caring less. Caring less about change. The world. What others think. Being more of yourself.

I admire that.

I just always want to be able to learn new tricks. And even now I can see myself struggling where there are core pieces of my identity that feel more locked into place.

It’s hard for me to care about things I tell myself I don’t care about. But why? Why not just fake it I ask myself? It should not be that hard. And if it’s required for the job – or my goals – why not just do it?

The excuse I make is because “that’s not me.” But what is me? Who am I? I am just the product of years of conditioning really. That combined with my soul.

Figuring out which of the two is the blocker is a fascinating thing for me to think about. Am I not able to do a thing because well it’s not me at my core. My life.

Or is it because I just have been part of the wrong systems. And the systems and the conditioning is holding me back. And I just need to change systems or make some changes in order to get there?

Can we teach old dogs new tricks?

Maybe I can go into another tangent in this essay in thinking about American life post college as one void of opportunities to learn. What if we built schools for older people? Why do we stop intensive studying post college? (That is to assume every did intensive studying in college, which likely isn’t true but that’s besides the point)

I for one want to keep learning. I have no interest in watching red zone and betting on the NFL.

I rather learn. Learn chemistry. Learn about medieval times. Learn from the greatest.

I think we should keep learning throughout our lives. It will keep our brains flexible. It will keep us on edge.

We can improve learning surely. To be more effective and accessible. And fun! We should do that for sure.

But we should not stop learning. Because I think what I mean to really say in this whole essay is that in many ways stopping learning feels like stopping living to me. And it makes me sad to look at adults who are incapable of learning. They are just going through the motions. They are just looking out in the world like sad old dogs. Just trying to reinforce what they already know and do the things they have already done. No perkiness. No tail wagging. No new tricks.


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