Posts

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!

It is 12 noon on a Friday morning, 22nd May 2020. I am feeling energised by three positive experiences. The first one totally unanticipated, and the following two planned arrangements that turned out to be extremely satisfying. It would not be exaggerating to say, “Beyond my wildest dream!”

Generating Hope

My early morning checking of emails turned up an unexpected find.  I received a booklet from our local School Leadership Forum. Accessing the new publication from this link: and I was delighted to sample some of the short stories.   The rationale for assembling these tales was to assist in generating the positive mental health of our school-going children.

A member of the teaching profession had requisitioned stories from a range of educators. She had asked them to create tales which would ‘create hope’ for children needing to cope with their present challenges, such as being denied contact with their friends, or their fears around contracting Covid-19.  What a joy it was to dip into so many uplifting contributions! My exploration of these enlivening anecdotes certainly raised my personal ‘hope.’ I would have loved to carry on reading, but I had an appointment at 10.30.

Invitation for Six Participants.

In this day and age, the only social interactions freely available are those we have in our zoom room!  I had invited six of my contacts to do me a favour.  Something I would not have been able to imagine just two short months ago.

“Please,” I emailed them, “I would like you to attend a 45 minutes meeting in zoom so that I can practice putting you into Breakout Rooms.

Some things you can learn by yourself. Even a team sport you can practice on your own. Most challenges can be improved by solo practice. The exception is allocating Breakout Rooms while conducting a zoom meeting. I had read the online tutorials, and viewed the video clips on the Zoom Help Site, but there was no way I could practice without the help of real live people with beating hearts being online with me!

The Three Aims of the Meeting
  1. I needed to practice placing participants into either ‘planned’ groups, or ‘arbitrary’ groups which are generated by chance within the zoom app.
  2. As the facilitator, I needed to be able to notify participants when they have just 60 seconds to conclude their discussion
  3. I wished to learn how to join each group while they are in the Breakout Rooms, as well as testing my ability to move from one room to the other.

By 11.15 a wave of satisfaction wafted through my body.  I had achieved these three goals. Now when I conduct future meetings, I will be confident the participants will have a positive experience of intimate small group discussions in the breakout rooms. Finally, without needing to be tense, I will have the confidence to bring all participants back into the main venue to continue the large group discussion.

I Advise my Financial Adviser!

Chatting to my Financial Advisor yesterday on the phone, we were comparing notes on our adjustment to the lockdown dictated by the ongoing pandemic and which was now reaching the two-month mark.

He was telling me how well he was doing consulting with his clients in Zoom. “But,” he told me, “I do have one problem. When I want to refer my clients to their personal documentation, I am not able to do so.”

“Well,” I responded, “this gives me an opportunity to offer you some advice! You must join me on zoom so that I can teach you how to ‘share your screen’ with your client.”  I do believe that initially, he was a bit sceptical, but he did not wish to disappoint me.  So an arrangement was made that the meeting would take place on Friday at 11.30; following the earlier practice session which we had discussed.

How to ‘Share your Screen.’

This turned out to be my third event of positivity during this morning. Just five minutes into the meeting, Mark was enabled, by following my instructions, to ‘share his screen!’ He was initially perturbed because the format of the display was different from that which he had imagined. However, a few seconds later, the penny dropped, and I am not sure who was happier between the two of us.  Mark, who had learned a new technique. Or me, who had been able to share my skills with him.

The Moral of the Story

We are going through very trying times at the moment. We will continue to negotiate deprivations of all kinds going forward. Can we tune into the creative ways to enrich the lives of our friends and acquaintances during this stressful time?   As the Stoics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism would say, “We cannot do anything about the things beyond our control, however, we can use our creativity and imagination to change those things  over which we do have control!”

Life Changes Enforced by the Lockdown

It is the beginning of week four of the South African lockdown, the government’s response to the Covid-19 virus infection.

“How am I feeling?” I ask myself. And, then I respond to my own question: “If I truly consider the present moment, I am excited about the new challenges that have come my way.”

Courses run by international educators are now being offered freely online. This means I have the opportunity to pursue my interest in developing my wisdom with an electronically delivered course – something which has not been available in the past.

In addition, I have caught up with people I have not managed to fit into my regular schedule. So, my social and learning connectivity has surely been enhanced.

The Zoom Room

Everyone is talking about Zoom these days. In truth, this app has been my biggest challenge and the source of multiple experiences, both negative and positive.

New technology, new adaptations to online facilitation, and learning how to accept disappointments and failures due to my lack of experience have been a constant lately.

For the past 14 years, I have been holding monthly meetings around my dining room table where a small group of seniors gathers to investigate what I call Conscious Ageing.

With physical distancing being the new norm, those monthly meetings have been transformed into weekly meetings held in my Zoom Room. What a challenge it is to make the transfer!

Things Going Wrong

Because of my new busy schedule, brought about by our new enforced lifestyle, I have been juggling with planning multiple meetings. This has involved connecting with someone in Johannesburg, as well as holding meetings with friends from all over the world.

Since all of this involves calculating time zones and some knowledge about the app’s options, I managed to get myself totally confused. The result was sending a number of unresponsive links to one of my friends, Coral.

A Shot of Dopamine

When Coral’s husband taught me how to bring someone into my ongoing zoom meeting, I experienced the reward of a shot of dopamine surging through my system. “Just look at the top left-hand corner,” he said to me, knowing I was in my Zoom Room.

“Click on the little white spot, and you will find the dropdown menu. There is the link to your current meeting. Just cut and paste the link into an email, send that to my wife, and she will join you right away.” And within a couple of minutes, Coral and I were having our planned meeting! Voila!

Facilitating an Online Meeting

The psychologists are all telling us that we cannot multi-task. I have noticed that when an organisation runs a meeting, one person is conducting the meeting and a colleague will be dealing with the technology.

But, I am a one-woman show.

I need to facilitate the meeting whilst muting and unmuting the various contributors, letting people from the waiting room into the meeting, keeping my eye on the chat, answering my cell phone when I am getting incoming calls to help with a technology problem, and maybe allocating participants into breakout rooms.

If this does not call for multi-tasking skills, then I must have missed something!

An Important Quality

In all the sources, to which I refer for guidance into the psychology of ageing, I have never encountered anything about the ability to tolerate the state of “not knowing.”

In today’s changing world, there is a constant need to be upgrading our skills and our values. I believe that senior people who are unable to embrace technology are those who find the feeling of “not knowing” too uncomfortable.

However, we now live in a rapidly changing world. Do we know what our life will be like once this severe lockdown ends? No.

We can project and have our ideas, but there is only one thing of which we can be certain: “We will all need to adapt to a changed lifestyle with new challenges on the road back to a fully functioning economy.”

If we are to adapt to the inevitable future changing lifestyles, we will need to learn to tolerate the quality of “not knowing.”   With practice and perseverance, learning will take place, goals will be reached.

 

Chantell Ilbury is considered to be one of Africa’s most creative strategic thinkers.    This modest and attractive young woman spoke at a meeting under the banner of the Cape Town University of the Third Age, at our local Baxter Theatre.

Scenario Planning

What a treat it was! Chantell is consulted by major companies all over the world, who seek her advice on the possible happenings in the realm of scenario planning. In this role, she makes predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour. She is consulted by major businesses all over the world to advise them on the way forward.

Chantell shared with us some of the ‘flags’, she and her partner Clem Sunter study in their role as scenario planners. They make predictions about the most significant changes that are likely to happen in the next five years in all fields of human endeavour.

The Flags 

  1. The Religious Flag: The biggest danger to watch is Iran. If this country should follow through with any of its aggressive threats to attack Israel or the USA, then the price of oil will be heavily implicated.
  2. Trade War Flag: They need to watch what is going on between the USA and China, each of whom wishes to dominate in this arena.
  3. Environmental Flag: We are already seeing dramatic floods, heatwaves and droughts, yet the denialism of President Trump needs to be monitored. The role of young people is proving significant in this area.
  4. The Ageing Flag: This is described as a ‘clockwork’ feature – it moves steadily in one direction. The proportion of aged in the populations can be monitored and is becoming greater, and this creates a burden on the younger generations
  5. Anti-Establishment Flag: We are going through a stage of Populism, where the elite are being maligned. The role of President Trump in the USA  and Boris Johnson in Britain are taking the Western World into this somewhat regressive posture.
  6. The National Debt: Today this figure is increasing, and many of the world’s leading countries carry a foreign debt of over 60%

What about Africa

Chantell informed us of the aspirations of the African continent. I learned about the African Union Agenda for 2063, which envisions an integrated and prosperous merger of member states during the next couple of decades. This bold aspiration is planned to commence with an economic merger. It is hoped that the warring factions will be silenced and the 54 countries of Africa will have initiated a range of co-operative ventures across the board.

In fact the front page of today’s daily newspaper Cape Times carries news of the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) which opens for a three day conference in Cape Town today.   Over 1000 delegates, global leaders in government, business and civil society, have gathered to explore the creation of inclusive sustainable growth for the countries of Africa.

Education

Chantell Ilbury, together with Clem Sunter are in the process of visualising an educational strategy for high school students. They feel that too much attention is given to learning factual material, and not enough to encourage the thinking strategies of today’s young people.

Isiah Berlin was a prominent philosopher at Oxford University when Clem studied there in the 1960s. He wrote a book which he called The Hedgehog and the Fox. This title was based on a quotation of the Greek poet Archilocus nearly 2700 years ago who realised, “The fox knows many little things, the hedgehog one big thing”. Scenario planners fall into the category of foxes. They are able to adapt their preferences according to prevailing conditions. Surely this demands a fresh educational perspective! This is what this talented duo are fostering in this rapidly changing world.

Charles Darwin spoke about the “Survival of the Fittest” This does not refer to the strongest members of society, but to those individuals who are able to adapt to changing circumstances. The species who were able to make rapid changes in a competitive environment are those who will stay ahead of the game. Our world is changing faster and faster as each year passes. I remember being fascinated by a course I studied in the 1950s about Social Change. We were told even then that technology changes faster than our ability to absorb the changes. How much more significant is that concept today. Social media influences need to be monitored by citizens with flexible minds who can adapt to the ever-evolving technological innovations.

Karl Popper divided the world’s phenomena into ‘clocks’ which could be analysed according to the parts which move and are relatively predictable, and the ‘clouds’. The latter category tends to be random events which follow no rules. Children need to understand the relative effect of both these types of events

David Hume is remembered for his 18th century postulation, “Reason is the slave of passion”. The earlier that children understand the difference between our conscious and our unconscious motivation, the better their chances of thriving in today’s world.

The partners in scenario planning have already introduced this program called “Growing Foxes” in a private school in London.  They are now negotiating for their program to be introduced into South African Schools.

It was indeed encouraging to learn about this relevant and creative approach to emphasising contemporary, relevant criteria within the field of pedagogics. It promises to assist our youngest generation to make better decisions about their own lives. In addition, they are helped to make well reasoned decisions regarding the ecological impacts of today’s lifestyle.

In Conclusion

It was most reassuring to learn these two progressive thinkers are prioritising a sustainable educational policy for today’s youth. May there be more practical and academic participants performing this crucial role of educating the youth, and advising on future scenario planning.