The Third Third

Olympics of the Mind

We are a competitive sort, we baby boomers. And it appears we have found our next arena. In an ongoing effort to stave off dementia, Alzheimer’s, and even the benign-but-prejudice-causing vicissitudes of aging, we are intent on keeping our minds active and engaged.Equipped with studies that within the last decade have showcased the surprising capacity (and elasticity) of our brains, we have entered the 2010 Olympic Games of Learning New Things.Convinced that if we don’t use it, we will lose it, we are giving new meaning to the term “life-long learners.” Sign me up!This is fun!Bridge lessons. Tennis lessons.Golf lessons.Piano. Pilates.Bible Study.The Master’s Program in Liberal Arts.A degree from the Kennedy School at Harvard.A semester at Oxford. Medical School.Computer classes.That book about the Arabs.The lecture on Islam.An online course on Investing. Well, it *was* fun until our cohort got competitive.Seriously?An advanced degree?From Harvard?Or Oxford?Didn’t we play that game already?Isn’t it time to give it a rest? I would have thought so.Perhaps my intellectual hunger is too easily sated.I was really very happy just trying to learn new tricks at the bridge table, and taking on volunteer tasks that stretch my computer skills.I considered it a healthy revelation to understand golf as a game (rather than a measure of my person).I like the stack of books I keep at the ready by my bed.But I don’t need assigned reading.And I’m not about to subject a paper to some professor’s snarky comments.Even if you don’t take it that far, though – the professor and all – simple social conversation with our peers these days seems to contain that subtle one-upsmanship that speaks to the intellectual insecurities I developed as a sophomore in college.I *thought* I had buried them long ago.But no, they flared up in a flash the other night when a local book reviewer, teacher, traveler, and sometimes self-proclaimed expert on many topics said her internist had suggested that since her reading, researching, teaching and lecturing skills were so highly developed and honed, perhaps she should challenge herself (and stretch her 70 year-old brain) with something entirely new, like learning a new language.So she’s taking up Arabic.Fine.Good for her.Wow.Amazing.Imagine – at her age, she still has a passion for learning new things!We applauded her, and her forward thinking internist. There was a little voice in the back of my head nagging, though.I don’t *have* a passion for Arabic.For that matter, I couldn’t even learn Spanish when I tried a few years ago.Isn’t it enough, indeed, isn’t it a sign of appropriate maturity, to concede there are some things you’re good at, and some you’re not, and then engage with the former because it makes you a much happier, more mellow person, more available for human as well as intellectual intercourse?I thought so.But now I’m not so sure.If you listen very carefully, *everyone* is interjecting a little “what I’m learning now” into their conversations these days, as if coming up with the most creative, the most challenging, or the most outrageous thing qualifies them for some kind of honor society. I’m all for staving off dementia.I work hard at staying current and relatively cool.But I suspect most of my competitive juices are all used up.And, I believe that’s a blessing.Further, that may be the *best* new thing I’ve learned in the last few years. OK, it’s not a contest.But you may have some fun ideas for engaging these aging minds of ours. Please share them in the Comments below.
comments powered by Disqus