Here’s a nice story, from National Public Radio, ‘The Surprising Strengths of the Middle-Aged Brain’, that my fellow mid-lifers might take strength from – and a little bit of (carefully modulated, of course – that’s who we are, in our fifties) robust pride, too…
A general sense of wellbeing; the ability to size up situations; the ability to grasp the gist of the argument; the ability to see categories – even the ability to make better financial decisions, and better judgments about people: all these are attributes, supposedly, of the surprisingly talented middle-aged brain. Along with short-term memory loss, forgetting names and titles of books, forgetting why one got up in the middle of the night and wandered through to the kitchen.
But hey, who cares about that stuff? Fact is, we are smarter, in some respects, now, at our age, than we were in our brash and confident twenties; better judges of situations, sharper on the uptake.
There is a word for at least some aspects of this new talent of ours, that sounds faintly Victorian: our forefathers called it ‘wisdom’. In our, more democratic, youth-focused, mobile, socially-networked, flatter world, wisdom seems a distinctly quaint and outmoded concept, smacking of hierarchy, tradition, stuffed shirts and prissy old fogies.
That’s a pity, I think: wisdom should count for something; experience leading to informed and balanced judgement is something we should value; insight, understanding and the mentoring of others, are surely part of the human journey from caveman to internet-man.
We are acutely aware of the absence of wisdom, the absence of the moderating and integrating and guiding strengths of the middle-aged brain, when we look at the antics of a Julius Malema and wonder, how is that the children have taken over the school? Since when did we allow the lunatics to run the asylum?
I think of my own middle-aged brain, and wonder – while I can still remember what it is that I am thinking – how I might use its abilities in my new work as a consultant, to help people and organisations and strengthen their work. I wonder, too, about the wisdom of love: not love as folly! But love as its own language of valuing, of integrating, of making meaning and creating meaning.
‘Only connect’, wrote E.M. Forster – and that, perhaps, is the true wonder of the middle-aged brain, and, hopefully, one of the wonders of this period of our lives.