Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 21, 2005, Herald Journal

Don’t let your sponge dry out


If a child’s mind is like a sponge, than an adult’s mind is like a rock.

If you were to draw a line graph (I know, it’s been a while since algebra class, but stay with me) of your intellectual development, based on the amount of information you’ve learned over the years, do you know what it would look like?

The high curves on the graph would represent the times in your life when you have learned a lot, and the low times when your brain was merely running on cruise control (the summer after high school graduation, for example.)

Without giving this careful thought, most of us would be tempted to start our graph at zero, and then, slowly, make a bell curve.

For some, the highest curve in the graph might represent years of study in college, which dropped slightly after graduation, and now remain steady.

Others might draw a hill steadily climbing upwards, at which this very moment in their lives is the time they feel they are learning the most.

If only it were true.

In reality, we learn most of what we know by the time we are six or seven years old.

During that time, we learned how to walk, talk, run, sing, play, write, feed ourselves, and dress ourselves.

Then, our learning curve hits the wall.

Unless you have mastered the art of flying (airplane not included) or are tri-lingual, your learning curve dropped off severely after kindergarten.

Yes, when our age still ranged in the single digits, our brains were heralded “sponges,” soaking up copious amounts of information daily.

Since then, our knowledge reservoirs have run dry, as we settle into the fact that we have already passed through the most informative age in our lives.

But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse.

It seems, as we age, we let our perceptions harden, and our brains turn from sponges into rocks. Not only are important facts etched into our minds, but so are our life philosophies, which we deem as fact because our brittle senses don’t want to uncover the truth.

Meaning, we become too stubborn to see outside of the opinions we already harbor, because learning something new sometimes means throwing out something old.

We would have to admit that we were wrong.

If you would like to pretend that this does not apply to you, please drop the slope of your learning curve closer to zero.

I certainly would love to suggest I am above this sort of nonsense – I am an enlightened individual, my pre-determined, prejudiced mind will not be a rock for long.

It’s an amiable thought, but next to impossible to fulfill.

So, if there is no hope of changing this situation, why am I bringing it to your attention?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, knowledge is power.

While we will probably never be able to return our brains to a sponge-like state, there are ways to stretch our craniums.

Why does it matter how limber our skulls are?

Think about a time when you did something you regret, and wish you would have known better.

Expanding your mind can let you know better, and not only keep you from indulging in the negatives, but can help you engage in the positives.

For example, as I was reading an article about feminism, I came across a few sentences that made my blood run cold, and soured the rest of the article.

Overall, the article was interesting and somewhat thought provoking and informative.

It is not feminism that I object to, I believe all God’s creatures are created equal, no matter their race, color, gender, or age.

However, something ironic struck me as I was reading the article.

(The article was actually a conversation between several feminists, who were commenting on a recent essay about feminism.)

One of the topics of discussion was how some of the feminists believed the essayist might have been too harsh in stereotyping men and generalizing women.

In the same breath, the women made their own stereotypes about other groups, including the Republican Party and women who are reluctant to take on the label “feminist.”

Some of them even went so far as to assume reasons behind someone else’s actions, and then judge them, based on those reasons.

The irony is almost comical, but sadly, it is not a one-time mistake.

It is something we all do every day, something I do every day.

We take what we know, and run with it; either too ignorant to be aware of what we are doing, or too callous to care.

I am not trying to pick on these feminists, or feminism in general. However, they just happened to be the latest glaring example of our inability to learn new things as we grow old.

So, don’t let your learning curve grow stagnant.

Much like learning a new language, we must immerse ourselves in new ideas, like we would a new culture.

The older we get, the harder it is; so start today. Dare to look at issues and opinions through a new lens, one willing to invite in the possibilities, even if they go against our hard and fast “rules.”

This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them in the end, but if you don’t learn about new things, you can’t really accept or reject them.

Since I have exhausted the rock and sponge anecdotes, ask yourself this: Do I want to be a bump on a log, or a living tree, whose roots are planted, but branches are growing every day?

If you chose the tree, your future will surely be bright with a fiery passion for learning and growing, a truly prolific facet to society.

If you chose the bump on a log, prepare to be kindling for someone else’s fire.

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