It's nice to have talent. Every once in awhile I'll treat a couple in which one partner will be working on the other, wishing the other would strive to improve. People in recovery call this working someone else's program, meaning avoiding work on the self. The language is of the "should" variety and has a "you" at the top of the sentence.
You should call that guy about the other job.Readers know that a good relationship is supportive, meaning if your spouse wants to learn how to jump out of airplanes for fun, assuming that it's safe, that maybe you shouldn't be holding him or her back.
You should be taking guitar lessons.
You should be going back to school.
That's probably not a good example. If FD tells me, I think I want to take up skydiving, and I say, That's GREAT! I'm pretty sure he'll think I'm trying to get rid of him.
In general we support self-actualizing efforts on the part of people we love, even encourage them. But we know it's a mistake to NAG a partner to self-actualize.
One can hint, but not nag.
If one intends to encourage a partner to learn a new skill and that partner is past a certain age, it is a prescription for failure.
One would not suggest to a bored middle-aged human, You really should learn piano, you've always wanted to play!
Because neuroplasticity will take a person only so far, is why. Take the man in the picture above, Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player ever. He decided to leave the public eye in 1992 and retire from the game. Soon after retiring from basketball, he took up baseball.
He had always liked baseball but wasn't very good, so he played for a minor league team, hoping to get better. With a .200 batting average (that's really low, if you don't know baseball stats) he ultimately quit the farm team and returned to basketball.
The Nike ads, of course, followed him. Here's a quick story from David Halvestam's book, Playing for Keeps.
Mr. Jordan returned to basketball and played for the Indiana Pacers. He let the talented advertizer, Jim Riswold, film television ads that essentially made fun of his lack of baseball prowess. In one he's at a truck-stop diner, living out the grim blue-collar life of a minor league baseball player. He sits at the counter of the greasy spoon, lonely and sad.
A friendly, middle-aged black waitress tries to cheer him up and gives him advice saying, “Honey, there ain’t no curve balls back in the NBA”
Riswold loved it, Jordan approved it, but the Nike people didn’t go with it.
The point is,
Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player in history, a record-breaking athlete, decided to pick up baseball relatively late in life. It didn't work out.
Harold Klawans, a versatile contemporary neurologist, author of several articles and books, explains why Michael couldn't hack it in his book, Why Michael Couldn't Hit. It's all about age.
Maybe you've noticed that as a kid you picked up new languages quickly.
FD, for example, taught our youngest son Rashi script when Little One was five years old. Rashi commentary is in very small print, found in margins of Talmudic texts. The script looks like Hebrew but it's not; the letters are mysterious even to many Israelis; it's hard language to learn at any age. Rashi wrote Hebrew in a different script on purpose so that those who wanted to harass, rape, or kill Jews on the basis of texts wouldn't read what he had to say, misquote or misunderstand, threaten lives and livelihood, and burn holy books. That happened all the time in his day.
It's best to learn Rashi script young for the same reason that it's best to learn all languages young. Some of us learned French. Others Spanish, Latin, or Greek. FD learned music. And Spanish. As a physician, both serve him well.
These days we encourage children to learn everything, and many seem up to task. It's easier to learn as children because childhood is the time that the brain has the greatest plasticity, meaning it's able to adjust, add new information, incorporate new concepts.
Don't take it from me. Here's a direct quote from Washington University's website on neuroscience for kids. For more information, click, here)
Neuroplasticity is the lifelong ability of the brain to reorganize neural pathwaysAs we age, we think that plasticity hardens up a bit. It gets harder to learn.
based upon new experiences. As we learn, we acquire new knowledge and skills
through instruction or experience. In order to learn or memorize a fact or
skill, there must be persistent functional changes in the brain that represent
the new knowledge. The ability of the brain to change with learning is what is
known as neuroplasticity.
But neuroplasticity doesn't disppear entirely, which explains why someone like my father (87) can pick up computer skills. We can still learn at any age, just not as well when we're older.
So encouraging our kids to learn as much as possible is functional unless the stress gives them headaches and ulcers, in which case we might consider chilling out a bit. We want them to establish neurological pathways, templates of information in the brain, although these pathways may atrophy over time with disuse.
As adults, should we wish to call upon old skills, we might need to refresh the old pathways, to review what we initially incorporated as younger beings. But it's easier to refresh than to start from scratch.
Once you've learned a piano piece as a child, for example, you can pick it up mid-life, even late in life. You can then practice it, tweak it, and add your personality to the performance. And you appreciate the piece much, much, much more than you did as a child of seven when it was all so much drudgery.
But learning every good boy does fine, or do re me at fifty might get tricky.
You don't want to stress the kids? Fine. But take a look at little Tammy and tell me she's not unbelievably wonderful. And why do I feel this kid isn't going to be bored after school and that her mother won't have to worry that she's getting into mischief? Okay, okay, we need not generalize that far, perhaps she will. I just don't think so.
That's the J S Bach Italian Concerto. I hear it a couple of times a day because FD is getting ready for his recital. And you know? It sounds just a little different each time.