Baking Bread and Bettering the Brain

My daughter Daniella who manufactures chef uniforms, did a deal with Jade who teaches Bread Baking.   Daniella would make Jade and her mother each a beautiful apron to wear at their bread making demonstrations.   In exchange, my daughter and I were offered a workshop on making Sour Dough Bread.

So this morning my starter was ripe, and it was time for me to put my new skills into practice.   The starter had been out of the fridge for four days, had been dutifully fed at 24 hour intervals and was considered ripe for the job.   Kneading bread in preparation for the rising before the baking, is a 20 minute repetitive operation.   I needed something to keep my mind busy whilst performing the kneading process.  The speakers from my computer were placed in the kitchen, and it was time to get to work.

Brain Science Podcast

It was some time since I had last listened to Ginger Campbell’s Brain Science Podcast. “Brain Science features the latest books about neuroscience as well as interviews with leading scientists from around the world.”

I chose to listen to the presentation by John Medina who discussed his book:   Brain Rules for Aging Well: 10 Principles for Staying Vital, Happy, and Sharp,  The podcast was switched on, and the bread mixing was started.

Brain Health: Genetics and the Environment

It was 15 years ago that I first learned about neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to change according to environmental stimuli.   This podcast would offer me the chance to learn about some of the recent research on keeping the brain healthy and retaining cognitive reserve.   “Recent research,” quoted  Medina, “has demonstrated that the role of the environment is responsible for 66% of the ability to maintain the maximum performance of our brain.”

Social Interaction

Confirmation of the positive role of social interactions for preserving brain health was reassured by the speaker.  Spending time in congenial company helps to preserve both our cognitive and our emotional health.  Of course, we all know it is good to have friends.   However, there is a bit of a new spin on the friendship criterion.  “Welcome those friends that do not always agree with you,” say the experts.  “It is a good exercise to have an intellectual sparring match with your friends as long as one simple condition is observed.   You need to retain respect for each other.   Seek out people with different perspectives and challenge your latent beliefs.”  That was great news for me as I have been spending many hours of late in the zoom room conducting controversial debates on the role of the Covid pandemic, and its contribution to forcing us to re-evaluate our lifestyle and our value systems.

With the emergence of the pandemic, these meetings have offered wonderful food for thoughtful examination.   It is amazing that a topic as mundane as the role of a cloth mask in preventing Covid-19 can arose so much controversy.   Of course, it is not recommended for this discussion to result in the acrimony experienced between Republicans and Democrats!

Inter-generational interaction

“It is healthy to discuss our life perspective with those of a different generation. Contrasting values and ideas offer the brain a ‘work-out’, during which the synaptic connections can be retrained.   With computers playing such a dominant role in the life-style of young people, they are in touch with many ideas and opportunities that are unavailable to those who opt-out of interacting with social media,”  says our expert.   There is no doubt that learning from one’s grandchildren is a very worthwhile activity.   Let us offer them our wisdom gleaned from our long life of challenges, and further enrich ourselves by remaining current with the new ideas and original thinking of the younger generations.

The Mediterranean Diet.

The expert podcaster reassured me regarding my faith in the Mediterranean Diet, something which I have been practising for the past few decades.    The advantage of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables is healthy for humans and also puts less stress on the natural resources of the planet.

My recent studies with Climate Reality has increased my awareness of the urgency of cutting down the carbon content of the atmosphere by at least 1.5%.    I have been made even more firmly aware of the fact that a plant-based diet is more environmentally friendly than one dominated by beef, chicken and lamb.

Exercise

I always knew that taking my dogs for a walk for approximately 45 minutes a day for the past 70 years was an investment in my health, so it surprised me to learn how little movement we actually need in order to gain the benefits of aerobic activity.   “All you need to do is a brisk half hour work for five days a week to show the benefit of exercise,” claimed the podcaster.

I now take most of my phone calls on my cellphone.   I have made it a rule to always walk around my lounge, or outside in the garden when I have longish phone conversations.   That must surely give me a further hour or so of walking per day!

Combining the Old and the New

It was satisfying to find that I was kept entertained by a contemporary podcast whilst simultaneously performing the bread baking which has been similarly practised for many centuries.   How rewarding it is to combine the ancient art of baking homemade bread with the contemporary capacity to enhance my learning.

The bread was indeed yummy!   Let us trust that my synapses will continue making new and stronger connections!

“But this is a time to gather the facts, then get quiet and summon our deepest wisdom — and let that wisdom lead us. For we have difficult choices to make in the coming days,” says Valerie Kaur in her memoir entitled “From Revolutionary Love.”

It is now five months into the pandemic and I need to reflect on my thoughts and feelings regarding the impact of Covid-19 on humankind.

The Three Stages of Live

I have been a member of The University of the Third Age for the past 20 years.   Never before have I been so aware of the significance of ‘The Third Age.’    This senior group of people has retired.  Their concern is about their investments, rather than their capacity to earn.   By contrast, those in ‘The Second Age” are still needing to earn.   They are the most implicated in the slowdown of the economy and the insecurity of maintaining their lifestyle.   Those who are still in ‘The First Age’ are concerned about the disruption of their education because of the closing of schools and institutions of higher learning.

The Confluence of Three Crises

I am not alone in my conjectures regarding this pandemic having made me more critically aware of both the urgency of Climate Disruption and the injustice of Class and Caste all over the world.   In the USA many People of Colour have died at the hands of the police.   The way it happened to George Floyd a couple of months ago, the cruelty of this particular public act, and the fact that it was so widely reported on social media, has ensured a widespread awareness as well as the urgency of acting on this misappropriation of justice.

The awareness of the malevolence of the role of a carbon dense atmosphere has been intensified.  Pictures of cities in China which are usually bathed in smog are now photographed as being  exposed to the blue sky.    The birds are singing more loudly and wild animals are returning to their habitat.   There can be no place for the refutation of scientific evidence regarding the negative implications of carbon polluted air.   It has been reported that the reduction of emissions for 2020 are now in line with the recommendations of the Paris Convention.   Great news indeed.   It can be done.   Let us ensure regulations are promulgated to ensure the continued diminution of toxic waster products.

Interdependence

This is the first time in history that populations throughout the world are feeling the devastating effects, the gross implications of living in an interconnected world.   The virus knows no boundaries.   We are all in this together.   The only way in which we are going to save our planet from the gross injustices of the past is for people, of all nationalities, of all persuasions to work together.   Never before has the interdependence between humans, and animals and nature been so obvious.

Exciting News

The World Economic Forum is taking the lead.    This organisation led by George Schwab has been meeting fortnightly to brainstorm transformative ideas for a restart of the economy based on the needs of people across both the political and class spectrums, irrespective of prestige or belief.   In January 2021 the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos is going to have a new format.   Instead of inviting only successful business leaders, political heads of states and influential people, the decision has been made to have the voices of three generations present at Davos.  The concept of The Great Reset is truly inspiring

Reading of the plans of this illustrious body of thinkers, I detect a rejection of the neo-liberal model where gross economic growth is the most important criterion of success. The main objective of business.    There is an inkling of awareness that it is not only the shareholders that need to be rewarded with dividends.   All players in the organisation have needs that must be met, including those performing the most mundane jobs.    The selfish, short term motives of activities must be replaced by the long term goals to benefit all the players.  The benefit all needs to be incorporated into the business structure.   It is going to be today’s youth who come up with new ideas to manifest these progressive theoretical concepts.

The Biggest Learning of the Pandemic

The rules and regulations of the lockdown have transformed our lifestyle in the most dramatic manner.    This ability of the world’s population to regulate their day to day habits has been necessitated by the lethal capacity of a micro-organism.   It has been demonstrated that “Where there is a Will, there is a Way”    There must be a way towards a fairer and more equal society where the needs of all beings are treated with fairness and dignity.

In Conclusion
In Conclusion

“I can see how we could use this opportunity to design a better world,” says Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), “but we need both national and multilateral institutions to make it work.

Solidarity and sharing and deciding on how you protect people – both within nations and globally – is absolutely critical at the moment.”

 

Last Sunday my daughter invited me to breakfast. She had been telling me about the delicious pancakes she makes. They are accompanied by stewed pears, naartjies, and bananas then topped with nuts, seeds and syrup. This description was indeed enticing, so I accepted the invitation with alacrity.

The Challenge Starts!

Watching her preparing for the anticipated brunch, my son-in-law comes up with a question, “How do you explain your evolution,” he asks. Well.” I responded, “My evolution is not unlike yours. I do believe that both your ancestors and mine started on the planes of the African savannas.” “What I meant,” he explains, “How is it that you have adapted so well to the Covid pandemic? You seem to have even more of a zest for new experiences than usual!”

Now I had to think quickly. What was the source of my resilience? How is it that I have managed to capitalise on the resources offered by the Zoom Room?

So I set out to think about the habits I have developed during the more than eight decades of my time on this planet. And so I came up with the following thoughts

Learning a New Language in my 30’s

“What I want to know is how it is that you have maintained the ability to learn new skills and keep in touch with what is going on in the world during this challenging period of climate change denialism, racial unrest and adjusting to the post-covid lifestyle,” Mervin reminded me

After a few moments of reflection, I managed to articulate a few possibilities. Because of the unusual circumstances of being reared in denial of my Jewish Identity, I had always felt inadequate when my friends peppered their conversations with Hebrew words I did not understand. In addition, it was disappointing, when I attended lectures and missed the nuances of the argument because of my unfamiliarity with the colloquial Hebrew terms that were part of the discussion.

When I was in my early thirties, I was unaware of the present understanding that learning a new language in your mid-life is one of the best ways of maintaining your cognitive fluency. It is by accident that I benefited from the motivation I had for social belonging.

The mastering of Hebrew writing, reading and speaking, by attending a university course in Hebrew, had an unintended and unexpected benefit. The rewiring of the brain that must have accompanied this course of learning, has allowed me to retain a better than average ability to absorb new information at my present advanced stage in the life cycle.

Knee Surgery in 1990

“But,” continued Mervin probing me further, “that does not account for the fact that you still play tennis twice a week with all those young ladies!” “That was also unplanned” I continued. It was three decades ago that I broke my anterior cruciate ligament whilst running for a short ball on the tennis court. The surgery that followed that injury necessitated a stringent rehabilitation program requiring me to cycle in the gym for 20 minutes, three times a week. This was usually followed up with some exercise on the various machines and then a swim. Not only did this work-out keep my knee strong, but it also offered me a level of fitness enjoyed by very few people at my stage of life. Retrospectively that injury, followed by a rigorous program of exercises, allowed me to benefit from an ongoing improved level of fitness.

Running a Business

Then I told Mervin how his wife, who was still busy making the breakfast, had inadvertently offered me the opportunity to gain a headstart in developing technology skills. It was 1995, a couple of years after my divorce from her father when Daniella suggested we go into business together and purchase a Futurekids Franchise. Something I would not have thought of doing on my own, but once she suggested we invest in this new business venture, my interest was piqued.

The five years that Daniella and I ran this business together, enabled me to master basic computer skills.

I qualified for the International Microsoft Drivers Licence or ICDL. This is an internationally recognised qualification providing practical training in each of the most commonly used software tools. Together with this knowledge, I managed to master the basic navigation of the internet, giving me the tools to become an independent learner.

The motivation to make a success of the business was a great incentive to master a wide range of skills, which have resulted in my ability to do research, design teaching materials and enrich my knowledge and understanding of the hobbies I subsequently developed.

The Mediterranean Diet

Mervin was not yet satisfied. “But what about your healthy diet, he enquired.” My adoption of vegetarianism, together with following closely the Mediterranean Diet, was yet another accident. I had developed an itch some few decades ago, on my upper arm. A casual suggestion by my father was that I tried cutting out meat from my diet.

Retrospectively it was a strange suggestion from a man who had no interest in dogs. However, he had heard the dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse saying that dogs who had itchy skin were treated by cutting down the amount of meat in their food. Today when there is a pressure from environmentalists to stop eating meat, I am grateful that I do not need to make any changes in my diet to comply!

Mervin is satisfied

Having offered Mervin a rationale of my accidental adoption of healthy behaviour and habits, he seemed to be satisfied. He had inadvertently offered me an inspiring opportunity to reflect on some of the positive incidents of my life. At the same time, I believe I was able to satisfy his curiosity

“Your true purpose is found at the intersection of your greatest aliveness and the world’s critical needs.”  This statement was made by Frederick Buechner to define wisdom.

My Search for Wisdom

It was some years ago that I realised I had reached the stage of my life in which I was supposed to be wise.   However, I did not feel wise, so decided to make it my business to find out what this state of being was all about, and how I could acquire it.

I have always believed that it is easier to approach such a deep question in the company of others who have a similar mind-set.

Engaging with a group about Conscious Ageing

I approached our local University of the Third Age to let them know I wished to recruit members to explore both Wisdom and Conscious Ageing.    The group has been meeting now for the past decade, and has grown to incorporate new ideas as they become part of the present zeitgeist.

Wisely and Consciously Engaging with Today’s Existential Challenges

In the third decade of the 21st century, nothing is more important than coming to terms with the problems around climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.   Inspired by the clarion calls of Greta Thurber, Extinction Rebellion and other similar movements I have been researching what the present day elders are doing about these environmental threats.

The Role of the Unconscious in Understanding Climate Change Denialism

Jeffrey Kiehl worked for 30 years studying climate change.  He noticed that when he gave public lectures, his audience would become very uncomfortable when he offered them factual information about the dangers of the changing climate. His well researched scientific evidence made his audience uncomfortable, so they tended to reject the quoted statistics and factual information.   Kiehl decided this denialism must be related to unconscious feelings.  He was so keen to understand this rejectionist attitude that he changed career to study Jung’s Theory of the Unconscious. Today he is a respected Jungian Analyst.

How does the unconscious operate?

Studying Kiehl’s ideas has offered me a new understanding of why it is so difficult for many people, business leaders and politicians particularly, to accept the scientific data.   There is a human predisposition to reject information which makes us feel uncomfortable.    No one wants to change their lifestyle.   The public are frightened by the realisation they may have to consume less in the future in order to maintain a healthy environment.

Crises offer us an Opportunity for Change.

I am reminded of learning about Crises Intervention at the Child Guidance Clinic many years ago.   A good time to create changes in the attitude of emotionally disturbed children is when they are going through a personal crises.    Maybe the crises created by the present dangers of flood, famine and fire will help us to understand we all depend on each other to maintain conditions for sustainable life on this planet.  The Buddhists told us many years ago that all mankind was inter-related.   Ubuntu in Africa is based on this mutual interdependency.

In Conclusion

The Wise Elder needs to find avenues for co-operation with the younger members of the community to make progress in finding a way to work together to halt and reverse carbon dioxide emissions.

 

 

I wish to introduce you to The Correspondent.   This new publication was founded in September 2019.   It offers a unique contemporary approach to journalism.   The reader is introduced to a brave and bold approach to playing their own part in the process of news consumption.   The exchange of ideas between journalist and reader is encouraged.  An attempt to counter the present devastating trend towards “false news” is articulated in the rationale for this new publication.   The deterioration in the quality of reportage has escalated during the past three years, during Trump’s presidency.    The Correspondent hopes to create a balance to this unhappy trend with its unique approach of fostering an interaction between writer and reader.

The Relationship of this Contemporary Initiative with my Passions

One of the criteria I like to emphasise in my advocacy of Conscious Ageing is the ability to explore new and novel ideas  whilst understanding you may suffer the consequences.    I heard a lovely quote from Mark Zuckerberg yesterday, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk.”    The Correspondent is, however, taking plenty of risks.  And I trust this confidence will be rewarded by the longevity of the publication

Below is a listing of the deals of this new venture:

  1. The Correspondent is not interested in the latest hype or scare, but rather the forces which shape the world. They do not cover the weather but are interested in the underlying climate.

 

  1. It is an ad-free platform. It will only collaborate with other organizations on condition it has full editorial independence.

 

  1. The Correspondent will fight harmful simplifications and keep away from breaking news that is designed to shock

 

  1. They practice Constructive Journalism which means they write stories which can influence events in a positive way. They are interested in activism, making a positive contribution to future lifestyles.

 

  1. They are happy to collaborate with their readers. The readers are not mere consumers, but can act as knowledgeable contributors as well

 

  1. They do not pretend to be ‘neutral’ or unbiased.  The Correspondent is open about where it is coming from. Facts are important.   Interpretation is equally important.

 

  1. The Correspondent aims to serve the reader rather than the shareholders. They wish to maximise trust over financial gain.

 

  1. They understand that as journalists they may not have all the answers. They are happy to interact with their readers and recognise when their ideas do not hold up in the face of new evidence.

The headquarters are in Amsterdam

However, The Correspondent has appointed editors from all over the world.  These are some of the categories:

  • Climate Challenges,
  • Sanity,
  • Everyday Colonialism,
  • The 1000 Days (the earliest days in our life),
  • Numeracy including Artificial intelligence,
  • Othering (about diversity, exclusion, social inequality and active empathy), and
  • Better Politics (What policies work?  A practical approach)

I perceive a strong bias towards the social sciences in this choice of specialities.   I continue to be fascinated by the role that sociology, psychology and anthropology play in helping us to understand the politics of today.   For this reason I am looking forward to watching the progress of this new vehicle for the dissemination of contemporary thought.

Adapting my Plans

And now I am feeling shocked.   I read a brilliant article last night by the Climate Editor of The Correspondent, Eric Holthaus.  He described a visit he enjoyed in his American home from Greta Thunberg and her father Svelte.

At this moment the two Thunbergs are travelling in America where they have been invited to speak at various international conferences.   I read an article about them late last night (10th October 2019) in The Correspondent.  I was too tired to concentrate at that late hour, so decided I would come back to it this morning.   Guess what?   It has been taken down.

And here is the reason. ‘The Thunberg family did not see the piece pre-publication. After it was made public, they raised a number of concerns around sensitivities within the piece.”  Holthaus understands their concerns.   Based on that understanding he and the team at The Correspondent decided that the right thing to do was to remove the article from the internet.

I was so excited when I first read this revealing story about Greta and her father.   It offers a very personal perspective of this young 16 year old Climate Activist.  She is at this moment a favoured contender for the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.  In his story Holthaus included the informal WhatsApp postings between himself and Greta when they were negotiating her stay at his home.   As far as I recall, his two young sons are aged about 3 and 5.   A beautiful picture of the two youngsters interacting with Greta and their soft animal toys, illustrated the story.

As I continue my tale, I am aware it may not be a fully accurate reflection of what I read as I am unable to check my facts.   I will forge ahead anyway!    I am a great fan of this young Swedish woman and am not prepared to abandon the story because my source material has disappeared into the ether.

The image remains with me of an unaffected but passionate young woman who has made sacrifices in order to promote the ideas she feels so strongly about.   Greta and her father have been away from home for a couple of months already.   They were offered a trip across the Atlantic in a yacht as air-flight is totally against Greta’s principles.   The pollution produced by aeroplanes is far too extreme.

As I do not have Greta’s memory for articulating facts, I need to speak in generalisations.  What I learned in the article was that an alternative fuel for aeroplanes is going to be very difficult to find.   Batteries are too heavy, and other potential sources of energy have other practical difficulties.   Therefore the possibility of them being used for air flight in the near future is very low.

The Challenges of being a Celebrity

In his description of the stay of Greta and Svelte, Holzhausen gave me an idea of the sacrifices the couple have made by spending so much time away from home and the rest of the family.   Greta’s mother and younger sister remain behind in Sweden, and it may be a good few months before the family is once again united.   Greta and her Dad have been invited to a major conference in South America in March next year.

The one problem with attending this conference will be negotiating a return trip to Europe by sea in March 2020.   Apparently at that time of the year the currents are not favourable for sailing from West to East.    The travelling duo has still to overcome that practical issue before finalising their plans.

An idealistic new piece of journalism describes the story of an idealistic Climate Activist and her father.   And, true to the aims of The Correspondent, the delightful story has been taken down because of its sensitive content.   I hope my memory grasps the essence of the story without causing any offence.

What is Generation Theory?

American research and literature have been including references to Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and millennials for some time. Now the terms are starting to appear in the newspapers in South Africa. In the Cape Times of this morning, Wednesday 2nd October 2019, two articles suggest the public become aware of the influences underlying the habits, values and behaviours of the youngsters of today.

Mannheim’s Generation Theory regarding the influence of current events onyoung minds was brought to the consciousness of the West in the 1950’s.   He believes that significant events in the life of a young generation will be transformative as far as their values and lifestyle are concerned.

Boomer Generation

Thus the Boomer Generation, whose youth was dominated by the Second World War, has only known growing prosperity and a heightened standard of living. America witnessed tremendous economic growth in the decades following WW2. Increasing prosperity influenced the lifestyle of this generation. Children born during and shortly after WW2 were a generation who witnessed an age of growing consumption and wealth.

Millennials of Today

The present generation has been the first cohort to experience the move towards Minimalism. Vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are significant aspects of this new culture. They are eating patterns which help to preserve the resources of the earth while minimising CO2 emissions. The last couple of decades have witnessed the lowering of the standard of living from one generation to the next. This generation is the first one since WW2 in which children experience a lower standard of living than their parents.

Learning from Milennials

With this very brief introduction to Generational Theory, let us now examine “What millennials can teach us about office life!” They have shown us that you don’t need to be in the office from 9 – 5 to be effective. Workforces are becoming more versatile and flexible as technology allows one to conduct one’s business in cafes, trains and even during overseas vacations!

Many bloggers are grateful to be able to work from anywhere in the world. Travel does not challenge their regular flow of income.

Working from Home

When I hear about this concept of a continuous income, I recall reading Vance Packard many years ago. He predicted in the 1950s the introduction of Cottage Industry. Businesses being run from home, cutting out the need for travel and rental of office space. In those days, I remember thinking that sounded like a fanciful dream; however, today it is a reality.

The downside of being able to work from home wherever you may be, whatever the time, is there exists no downtime. Burnout, caused by the stress of being on call at all hours of the day, is a phenomenon of the past twenty odd years. Youngsters starting their careers are made aware of the necessity of time management. This has become an essential skill in order to include leisure and family time are not compromised and are part of the daily agenda.

The Millennials of today are aware of the dangers of being dominated by their careers and are making choices. They realise that the top salary may involve a sacrifice of their mental health and are choosing a lower salary which allows them a more flexible lifestyle

“Don’t let the old man in; Baby Boomers break the mould again.”

This is the title of the second article of this morning’s Cape Times describing changes in the business environment dictated by a generation of retiring boomers. Today retirement does not necessarily mean the end of the time when you earn some money. As Nelson Mandela said, “This is the second time I am retiring from retirement!”

Retirement Villages have become a popular way for boomers to spend their senior years. What is being advocated in this latest study is the potential for building new retirement villages. While most contemporary retirement developments have been built as sanctuaries for non-working people, changes will be needed in the next 20 years. Contemporary retirees are looking at lock-up-and-go lifestyles with facilities for maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. This will require future facilities for seniors to conduct their life with high-speed internet facilities, exercise equipment and spaces to socialise and entertain.

Further suggestions for future developers of senior lifestyle facilities are offered. It is suggested that wheelchairs and nurses be kept discreetly in the background as residents sip their chardonnay on the patio!

My personal experience

The recent severe drought we experienced in Cape Town has ensured my generation is acutely aware of the potential of further water shortages in the future. We will never squander water in the way we have in the past. The idea of witnessing a dripping tap is an anathema. No longer do we wash our dishes more than once a day. We all cut down on the use of the washing machine. We know water is a precious commodity.

Today and the Senior Lifestyle

As senior citizens, we have the chance next week to acquaint ourselves with what we can do to save our planet from environmental pollution. Dynamic young women like Greta Thurnberg, who at the moment is favoured to win the Nobel Peace Prize, have made us aware of our responsibility to educate ourselves and others regarding the use of our natural resources. We must understand the impact our daily habits have on global warming. We may not be planning to visit America by yacht, rather than by flying, but we need to be controlling our waste and learning the art and science of recycling.

Let me suggest a good place to begin. A crucial online seminar is starting this month. I suggest you go to this link and sign up. I have confidence you will learn what needs to be done to save our planet from the irreversible damages of human ignorance and mal-practices.

As I was about to enter the eighth decade of my life, I was constantly hearing from my friends about their memory loss. Or, about their confusion when navigating familiar parts of their home town, or their difficulty in maintaining concentration on everyday tasks. However, it had not occurred to me there was a recognised field of training for people who wished to assist others in slowing down this cognitive decline.

A Chance Encounter

During my daily exploration of the internet, in February 2006, I came upon an international newsletter from the University of the Third Age. There was a seemingly innocuous phrase in this newsletter which piqued my interest. It said, “Dana lives in Prague, and she is a live-wire.” I would certainly like to meet a live-wire during my anticipated trip to Prague in a couple of months. My son was due to be married in Amsterdam, and my daughter and I planned to visit Prague after the wedding.

I double-clicked on the relevant email address and composed a quick email to Dana. The message read, “I am planning to visit Prague in July and would love to meet you and take you out for a cup of coffee,”

A Live-Wire indeed

Within the next 24 hours, I received a response from Dana. Unfortunately, she would not be in Prague in July, as she was to be in Turkey facilitating a Memory Training Course for members of the University of the Third Age who live in the United Kingdom. “But,’ she said, ‘You are welcome to stay together with your daughter in my flat when you are here.”

The Concept of Memory Training

I was excited to accept her offer of hospitality and enjoy her well-equipped residence while visiting the capital of the Czech Republic. In addition, I wished to know more about the course she offered in Memory Training. It took merely a couple of emails, and a few days to arrange that Dana would travel to Cape Town to offer a three-day course in Memory Training. So in June 2007, 200 members of the University of the Third Age in South Africa had the opportunity to attend this course.

Her course was stimulating, engaging and a great eye opener to all who attended. ‘But,’ I asked her, ‘what is going to happen now you are going back to Prague? Please give me some ideas on how I can continue the momentum you have built up.’ ‘If you want to continue my work,’ she responded, ‘then you must come to my week-long course in Prague next February. I will then be running a training course in English under the auspices of the Czech Society for Memory Training and Brain Jogging.’

International Training

So, for the second time in under a year, I was destined to visit Prague. This time it was in the middle of winter, whereas the first time it was a summer encounter. Quite a contrast, but Prague is a beautiful city at any time of the year. Now I had the opportunity to join students from Scotland, America and Tasmania who were also interested in memory training. By the week’s end, I was tested on my ability to recite the 43 American Presidents from memory. Additionally, I could recite the memorised decimals of pi to 100 digits.

‘But what is this Memory Training all about?’ you may ask. ‘And who wants to know the American Presidents off by heart?’ ‘And, I am not interested in pi,’ I can hear you saying to yourself. Your reaction would be the same as the majority of people when they first hear about these exercises. When you engage in the course, you grow to understand the significance of the use of mnemonics as a tool for assisting the memory. Mnemonics is a powerful associative tool giving the learner the capacity to memorise long lists of both numbers and facts.

Sharing my New Skills

When I returned to Cape Town I wasted no time in gathering together a small group of people to share my new insights and trainings. I researched further areas for maintaining our cognitive faculties, and as time has progressed, I have incorporated additional skills into my training program.

Realising that memory training and the building of a cognitive reserve is intimately connected with emotional control, a study of emotional resilience and motivation have become part of my teachings. Recently Mindfulness and Meditation are being rapidly embraced within Western society, so the understanding, practice and appreciation of these concepts have also become part of the range of skills we embrace in our non-directive facilitations.

Maintenance Skills

When we are at school and university, and subsequently in a work situation, we are called upon on a daily basis to exercise our mind. To stretch our intellectual faculties. To absorb new pieces of information. However, during the time of retirement, these external factors no longer form an integral part of our daily life, and the temptation to live a semi-indolent existence is ever-present. However, the trouble is that if we do not use it, we lose it. This expression applies to our mental abilities, in the same way as it applies to our physical abilities. If we are to retain our optimal level of functioning, slow down memory loss and maintain our perceptual faculties we need to adopt some daily routines into our lifestyle. To preserve our manual dexterity, sustain our balancing abilities and maintain our muscle tone, these skills have to be exercised in a consistent and stimulating manner.

Role of Blogging

And, perhaps the best way of all to retain one’s cognitive reserve is in the discipline of blogging. The weekly effort to draw insights from my experiences has become an effortful way of exercising concentration. It ensuring my creative skills do not become dormant. If you do not wish to blog, then daily journaling is a recognised pursuit for those who wish to practice their cognitive skills and ensure their faculties remain intact.

“Education should not only train people to solve problems and sharpen their intelligence but, more importantly, to be good human beings.” ~ Matthieu Ricard

#10

Chatting to a friend yesterday, I was surprised to hear from her an evaluation of her grandson’s education. “He is a brilliant student and recently qualified as an accountant,” she said. “But, when I spoke about #10, he did not know what I was talking about. And to make matters worse, “she added, “he has never even heard of Downing Street. I really do not understand what education today is all about!”  She reflected on her own background in the arts and her fund of general knowledge. I could not help thinking, “Is this really what is important in this day and age? Does a lack of a piece of factual knowledge give us the permission to condemn the contemporary system of education?”

I managed to refrain myself from vocalising my thoughts. I acted sympathetically. While not agreeing with her statement, I did manage to stop myself from disagreeing. However, more importantly, I started to ponder the primary requirements of contemporary education.

My Thoughts on Contemporary Education

Ken Robinson on TED

The first place to which my mind travelled was to the TED talk given by Ken Robinson which is one of the most popular of all time.   It has achieved  62 164 165 viewings. the main point of Robinson’s presentation was the enormous value of training in creativity, rather than the presence of a vast factual knowledge base.

Scenario Planners advocate Thinking Skills

In a recent blog, I have spoken about the work done by the scenario planners Chantelle Illusbury and Clem   They have put a great deal of work into developing a system which encourages the students to practice their logical thinking skills.

Understanding our own Biases

Another recent blog of mine talks about the work that Johnathan Haidt is doing on American campuses to enhance the students thinking of racial, class and gender issues. He focuses on giving the learner the skills to become aware of their own unconscious biases.

Evolution of Goals of Education

The next thought that came to my mind was, “Is it appropriate for us ladies, who were born more than 80 years ago, to use the educational models of our growing years as an example for the present generation?” Seventy years of history has been added to the available information since our school days. To say there has been an information explosion is an understatement. What percentage of the school curriculum should be devoted to technology? Our teachers did not have to worry about finding space in the curriculum for computer usage when I was a scholar.

Contemporary Goals in Education

At the stage, I decided it was time to do some research and bring ‘Mr Google’ into the act. My query in the search engine was, “What are the Education Goals of Today?  Here is what I found in the first article I accessed.  While this is an arbitrary choice, It is sufficiently broad in scope and progressive in orientation for me to use as a starting point.

The School Around Us suggests the following as education goals:

  • Learn how to learn, for life by being aware of multiple resources
  • Discover the whole self by reflection and introspection
  • Exploring and practising basic skills by understanding the interaction of all things
  • Practice responsible and knowledgeable citizenship

I rather like how The School Around Us reflects on the spiritual aspect of Holistic Education. “It is not a traditional school, in that the “basics” include matters of the spirit, the body, the heart, as well as the mind. Academics are certainly important, but they are only part of the “basics”.

Current Events Meeting promotes Further Ideas

At our U3A current events meeting this week in September 2019 the facilitator opened with a challenge. “Why do you think,” he enquired, “the British politicians are having such a hard time getting together making a decision.   The British Parliament has so many well educated and experienced politicians, yet they seem unable to form an agreement on this matter despite being led by three different Prime Ministers in the past three years?”

I did recognise our leader was being intentionally provocative. My thoughts were, “These experienced British Politicians may be well educated, but that does not mean they are necessarily rational in their behaviour. Each of us has our biases which may well not be founded on logical thought.”

Coda

While going to do my shopping this morning, I was stopped at a pedestrian crossing by a school teacher who was ushering her primary school class to cross the road. She failed to share my greeting, offered while I patiently waited for the last child to cross the street. As she moved on, I was anticipating a friendly wave or some acknowledgement for my wait. I was disappointed. She merely walked on with never a gesture of appreciation. I wonder what sort of education she experienced! And, I wonder if she knows where 10 Downing Street is situated!

 

The term antifragility was introduced into the English language by Nassim Taleb when writing his book of the same name which appeared in 2013.   I was somewhat chuffed to learn about this concept as it verified an observation I had made some 50 years ago.

My Observation

It was in the early days of my marriage.  Divorce was not nearly as common as it is today. Despite this fact, I did have within my social circle, sufficient acquaintances who had decided to terminate their marriage. I remember giving some thought to the fate of children whose parents divorced when they were still young.   I had noticed that the children of my friends who emerged from a family of divorce were either better adjusted psychologically than the average child, or had a greater number of psychological difficulties than the most of their peers.

An example of Antifragility

How does this relate to antifragility, you may ask?  To understand this term, we need first to understand that things such as glass objects are fragile, while articles made of steel are strong and robust.  But, what do we call something which grows in strength when offered a series of moderate setbacks?   This is what antifragility is all about.   Interestingly enough Taleb recognised this condition in the banking system when he was a successful investor and studied the ups and downs of the stock market.

Psychological and Physiological Antifragility

I am, however, more interested in how the term anti-fragility helps us to understand both psychological behaviour and the physiology of the body.  Small struggles of the mind and body tend to make us stronger.   If your muscles are not used they become weaker.  If our muscles are overused they are damaged.  But if our muscles are used a little bit more each day, or each week , they then grow stronger.  The same can be said of the immune system.  A few germs in the environment are necessary for the development of immunity.

Returning to my Early Experience

To return to my observation of many years ago, I now have an interpretation for this early hypothesis.  If the amount of stress of their parent’s divorce is handled optimally, the children can emerge with greater resilience; they become antifragile.  However, if the stress of the divorce procedure is beyond the capacity of the child to process, then that child will suffer emotional damage.

Resilience and Antifragility

Linda Graham is an American psychologist who has written a brilliant book on resilience. She describes resilience as the learned capacity to cope with adversity. Developing resilience over one’s lifespan illustrates the concept of anti-fragility. Graham in her latest weekly blog was referenced a book written by Johnathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff called the Coddling of the American Mind In this book, the authors document how child-rearing practices in America are overprotecting growing children. Parents are not allowing them to experience the challenges which have been a traditional part of growing up.

Over-protection

Today parents are so concerned about the physical safety of their children that there is a tendency to overprotect them. As a result, today children in cities have to be under parental protection 24 hours a day.  Children are no longer allowed to be on the streets without adult supervision.  Parents can be punished for allowing their children to participate in activities that the current law considers to be dangerous.  Thus a child cannot be allowed to go to the corner shop to buy a pint of milk or a loaf of bread.  The growing child does not participate in the tasks which allow them to develop their independence. Several decades ago, a child reared in the city could go to visit friends in the local neighbourhood, play in the streets, or make their way to the park without adult supervision.   Today these growth experiences are denied because of what many people perceive as over-protective regulations.

A Commencement Speech

The benefits of encouraging an antifragile lifestyle are beautifully illustrated in the words of John Roberts, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, in his commencement speech to his son’s middle school:

He said, “From time to time in the years to come:

  • I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.
  • I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.
  • Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. ·
  • I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and the failure of others is not completely deserved either.  ·
  • I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.
  • Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

The Reader’s Contribution

Would you like to share your experience of the role of antifragility in your own life?  Let the other readers know how you have benefitted from the challenges you have overcome. How you have emerged with greater strength?

My friend Geraldine recently celebrated her 83rd birthday.  I phoned to congratulate her on reaching this milestone. In the past, she has invited her friends for a morning tea to celebrate this annual event, but having recently moved to a new senior residence she has abandoned this routine. We resorted to having a chat on the phone.

Catching up

We were discussing our friendship of the past 40 odd years.  We met many years ago at an Easter camp that was run by our local hiking club.  We travelled together to the Alps on a two week hiking tour in Austria.   We reminisced about the many local trails we had hiked together.  We had spent a month in Israel, where we participated in special volunteer program.   In this program, people living in the diaspora can spend three weeks on an Israeli Army Base getting to know the country and its people.   Simultaneously they work as temporary members of the Israeli Defence Force, thus playing a small part in the country’s security.

Changing Technology

Geraldine was telling me that despite the fact that she is considered one of the most technologically sophisticated in her Residential Home she was really put out when visiting her son in America.   She does her own internet banking, and regularly uses an ATM.  However she was unable to begin to master the new systems she found in the States when she visited her son last year.  She expressed her feelings of unfairness.  She wanted to put a new app on her 5 year old ipad but was unable to download the software to her out of date device.  Her laptop of 10 years is unable to cope with the latest upgrades.  “It’s not fair,” she proclaimed, “How do they expect people like me to manage if they keep changing these things?”

Into the Future

If this is how an 83 year old is feeling in 2019, then how are people of a similar age going to feel 30 years from now?  By that time, technology will be changing even faster than today.  Each year the speed of change in the field of communications is accelerated.  I feel that people who are about to retire need to retain their capacity to keep up with the ever changing demands of technology.  Senior people need to maintain a positive attitude to learning new concepts.    The should be aware that our previous skills sets will not equip us for the future environment.

And, Another Friend

I was chatting to another friend who is a retired librarian.  She has a wide knowledge of literature and has been a leader in her local book club for many years.  When I saw Maria recently, I asked her what she was finding interesting in the contemporary world of literature.   I enquired whether she was enjoying an author whom I admire. “Oh yes,” of course,” she responded when I questioned her on the work of Yuval Noah Harari, “I have read all his books, although I did find his second one Homo Deus somewhat challenging.”  I decided to follow up with, “And, do you maybe read the blogs of Maria Popova.  She is someone whose work I respect. She has the ability to synthesise knowledge on such a wide range of contemporary psychological and philosophical issues.”   “No,” she said, somewhat condescendingly, “I do not have enough time to read blogs.”   “Oh dear,” I thought, “It is clear we have some different values regarding the source of useful information.”

The Implications

I see an interesting parallel.   Some people live in a country and never learn the primary official language of their adopted home.   Then, others have a negative attitude toward technological change.

We are not all going to be using all the opportunities presented by social media, or all the potential apps which are available for download.  However, I do consider it a disadvantage to cut oneself off from the reading of all the personal, anecdotal, and contemporary perspectives to be discovered by reading blogs.

My Potential Contribution

I am working hard to develop an online course specifically targeting people nearing their retirement.  I plan to share some of the habits I have been practising for most of my life.

Physical well-being

Not just the benefits of daily and ongoing exercise, but the necessity of developing a routine that includes both walking and more robust activities.  I believe potential retirees need to continue to learn new skills.  They should continuously set themselves everyday cognitive challenges.   They need to be in a position to take advantages of the fresh possibilities which become available.

Cognitive well-being

An awareness of the many ways to keep the mind active will become critically relevant.  Watching passive entertainment on the TV screen or playing games on the phone do not qualify.

Emotional well-being

Furthermore, I believe an ability to practice the techniques of mindfulness and meditation have become a pre-requisite for maintaining emotional equilibrium. These skills assist us in processing new experiences, objectively and healthily.   Allow us to develop our emotional resilience.

My hope

I hope you will be following me as I develop my online course and share my life experiences.   I aim to retain my curiosity as an octogenarian who remains intrigued by the up-to-the-minute opportunities which become available day by day.