Old Dogs and New Tricks?

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For June 5th Weekender, 2016

Learning New Tricks

David W. Hegg

It is often said, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But what if learning a few new tricks all along the way can keep you intellectually young? What if the reason old dogs feel and act old is they’re no longer interested in learning new tricks? It is time we stopped grousing about getting older and started understanding the accumulation of years as a longer opportunity to learn, live, love and accomplish good in our world.

Many have noticed a growing trend among the emerging generation that brings a measure of hope to those of us who are now seasoned citizens. Mentoring has become a much-appreciated skill, and many younger people are looking for mentors who are older, wiser, and have been successful in life. While previous demographic groups considered old age a disqualifying characteristic, many millennials are seeking relationship with those of us who actually remember spam, eight-tracks, Reagan, Viet Nam and – sadly – disco.

The question for us now is whether we’ll have anything to offer if and when we get the chance. Or will we have succumbed to the seductive call of the couch, slippers, re-runs, an expansive waistline, and intellectual resignation. Here are some suggestions for keeping the brilliance you’ve taken years to perfect active and accessible.

Think: Too often relaxation means trying not to think about anything that matters. But this is a seductive snare. The body is rejuvenated when the mind is actively pursuing important ideas. The old slogan for the UNCF that declared “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” remains true at every age. Find time each day to analyze a problem, solve a puzzle, engage in meaningful conversation, compose a poem or song, and genuinely put your mind to work.

 Read: There are two primary ways we strengthen our intellectual capabilities. The first one deals with intake. Read good literature. Read articles that stimulate deep thought. Read stories that insist you create pictures in your mind. All of these will strengthen your creativity, improve your analytical ability, and sharpen your intellectual acuity.

 Write: The second way to shore up your thinking deals with output. You simply have to write.  Few things bring thinking, analysis, and cogent expression together like putting your thoughts and arguments into words, sentences, and paragraphs. Whether it is an essay, letter, poem, short story or Facebook post, write something everyday. Who knows, you may come up with ideas and insights that spur others to do some thinking for their own.

 Laugh: Laughter means you’ve seen something good in life, and often it includes good friends, good food, and beautiful places. If your laugh meter gets stuck on the low side it can really undermine enjoyment of life. It can also push you into the lane where criticism and crumugeonicity live. Fight the urge to grow old and crotchety. Laugh, and if it seems like a lost art, relearn it!

 Love: Never forget love is what completes life. Without it we’re merely treading water in the ocean of life. Without it we are incomplete, unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and usually miserable. As we age there is a tendency to withdraw, isolating ourselves from those that need to be loved, and want to love us in return. Don’t give in to the selfishness that can easily make you hard to be around. Be intentional about giving yourself in loving action to those who make life vibrant for you.

And don’t forget the greatest opportunity to be rejuvenated by love is to find rest in the love of God extended to us in Jesus. As Augustine said so well, “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee.” I pray you find that rest before the years allotted to you are ended. Now that’s something to think about!