Saturday, February 25, 2012

Preferring age over youth

I recently read about an Indonesian Muslim televangelist, Abdullah Gymnastiar, who conducts three-day management seminars for $200-300 per person:

The program emphasizes three keys to success – honesty (to gain people’s trust), professionalism, and innovation – and promotes the basic belief. … Sounding like a business guru, he preaches the Seven Tips for Success (“Be calm, plan well, be skillful, be orderly, be diligent, be strong and be humble”) and Five Tips for a Good Product (“It should be cheap, high quality, easy to use, up-to-date and useful for both the world and hereafter”). (John L. Esposito, The Future of Islam, p. 136)

Gymnastiar’s advice bears a striking resemblance to that proffered by some Christian televangelists and secular management gurus. Sometimes, paying someone to tell us what we already know, or suspect to be true, reinforces the message, prompting commitment instead of lip service.

Some new research proves that some forms of mental functioning improve with age. For example, older people (i.e., over 40) tend to improve their “crystallized intelligence,” which includes judgment and knowledge of vocabulary. This conclusion is the result of a longitudinal study that has followed over 7000 American adults for more than 20 years. A key finding is that humans do not seem pre-programmed for senescence. “Experience can outrun biology.” (Patricia Cohen, “A Sharper Mind, Middle Age and Beyond,” New York Times, January 19, 2012)

These conclusions represent a startling contrast to both what many physicians thought only a century ago and to our youth idolizing and idealizing culture. Age, not youth, may be a person’s golden years. Of course, the body’s appearance and musculature generally decline with the passing of years. Yet, truth be told, most of us are never that good looking or physically capable. But even the most intelligent can benefit from improved judgment.

Most of the essential steps are not surprising: eat properly, drink moderately, exercise regularly, stay mentally active, remain socially engaged, and get enough rest. I’m not charging for this blog. But perhaps the research reported above will be an effective catalyst for evaluating which of those habits you might want to incorporate into your lifestyle.

When discouraged by getting older, I consistently find comfort in remembering that the alternative to old age is death. I also cherish the wonderful memories I have from past years, experiences that I find priceless and would not exchange for an opportunity to live again, fearful that I would find the experience disappointing.

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