To learn is to live

This past week I had the opportunity to watch our management team participate in an introductory training on Tai Chi. That may seem a strange thing for the staff of a senior services organization to do but there was a reason. We are working on specialized programs for individuals with Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders. Exercise can be of great benefit to these individuals and Tai Chi has, in addition to others, been shown to have a positive effect. So as we begin to train our staff to offer this, we want to train our managers as well.

We had a room of about 25 people, all with extensive experience, great professionalism and deep commitment. The instructor had each of us, both in chairs and standing at various points, working on our breathing, visualizing and moving slowly and rhythmically. As I looked around the room during that 30 minutes, I saw rapt attention, really deep focus and significant engagement. The session ended with both questions and answers as well as feedback and there was a lot of conversation and excitement.

What mattered, however, was not the Tai Chi (although that is important to be sure), but the opportunity it gave each of these individuals to learn something new. We were in a room with a fully glass wall, visible (and entertaining!) to the residents having breakfast in the adjacent dining room, yet no one seemed concerned or less than fully participative. They each gave themselves fully to the new experience and to adding to their core of knowledge.

Each of these folks is an expert in their own right, yet all of them embraced the chance to grow and learn. And it made me think about how vital it is that we are all open to learning; that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking “we know” and closing our minds to what else there might be. Of course it is easier to be open to something fully outside our realm, like Tai Chi to a group who had never tried it before. But it is a lesson that we need to remember and take further. To fully live, I think, we must continue to learn. To learn we must expose ourselves to new experiences, new ideas and new skills.

We are never too old to learn. We see this with older adults every day. We may not learn as quickly, we may not retain as well as we once did, but to see the spark of comprehension as we help someone’s world to grow, to feel our own eyes widen at the addition of some bit of knowledge or idea we didn’t have before—all that is incredibly powerful, a gift of meaningful life we can give to ourselves and to others.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a member of the boards of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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