“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” “You are out of touch with today.”
At any family gathering throughout the years, we have all probably heard these phrases on more than one occasion. Typically, as individuals get set in their ways, either in a job or in their home life, the phrase, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is said to address a personal short-coming or to rationalize another person’s response to something new and different. The normal dialogue back and forth between generations typically results in someone in a younger generation responding to an older person, hopefully as respectfully as possible, with “you are out of touch with today.”
Both statements are indicative of two areas that we need to address on our journey to build and strengthen our character: (1) We must remain teachable throughout life in order to reach our full potential and (2) We need to remain open to learn from anyone by removing the self-imposed obstacle of prejudgment.
(1) Remain Teachable:
Our world continues to grow in complexity, intensity, and uncertainty. The issues we face in many areas of our lives will not be effectively addressed with the techniques that worked a few decades or even a few years ago. The pace of change in most of our markets is lightning fast and business leaders need to continue to seek improved solutions to add greater value in addressing more complex customer challenges. In our homes, whether it is managing our finances, maintaining a strong marriage, or being a more effective parent, our environments are continually changing and we need to be open to new ideas to be more effective in our rapidly changing home front. The principles of love, understanding, compassion, etc. are timeless and always relevant. However, how we deliver on those principles needs to adjust with the changing environment.
We must make the choice to remain teachable and continuously learn in order to remain relevant to those around us. Making that choice will help to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for better relationships. Blaming someone else, or worse yet, in our own mind saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” will work to weaken our character and our relationships.
In addition to remaining teachable to stay relevant, we need to be open to learn from anyone. Generationally speaking, the young should remain open to learn from the wisdom of the old and the old should remain open to learn from the new ideas and energy of the young. In addition, diversity of experiences, backgrounds, gender, race, etc. provide potentially valuable insights to practice an openness to learn. However, many times we prejudge the potential teacher with our own thoughts of: “What can I learn from him? He has never worked in my industry?” or “She does not have a degree in this particular field, what could she possibly teach me?” or “He is an old man, there is no way he can relate to what I am dealing with?” or “He is only a teenager, what could he share that would change what we already know?”
Diversity provides a great foundation for learning. Many times we prejudge diversity of thought or expression to close the door to learning from others. Making the choice to remain open and willing to learn from others who may appear ‘different’ than us will help to build and strengthen our character and Character Creates Opportunity® for our own personal growth. Prejudging people because they are ‘different’ or allowing ourselves to fall into ‘group-think’ that quiets their voice, will work to weaken our character and hinder us from reaching our full potential.
Remaining teachable and open to learn from others will help us to be more effective in our lives. The outcome of our efforts may be small and appear insignificant, while others may enable us to reach a huge opportunity or avoid a major tragedy.
Elie Wiesel, the winner of the Nobel Peace prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and many other distinguished honors, chronicled his journey from his hometown of Sighet, in Hungarian Transylvania, to the Nazi concentration camps in his book, Night, and provides a vivid reminder of the importance to remain open to learn from anyone.
In the beginning of his story, Wiesel is a Jewish teenager and studies the Torah and the Kabbalah under a teacher the town calls Moishe the Beadle. Moishe was somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades in the Hasidic house of prayer in the town. He was quiet, poor, and mostly overlooked by the townspeople. Elie’s instruction was cut short when Moishe was deported by the Hungarian police as they began rounding up the Jewish religious leaders in 1941.
After almost a year, Moishe returns to the village and begins to warn everyone about the future plans of the Nazis. He told them about his experience when he was deported and how the Gestapo beat them, put them into forced labor camps, and began torturing and killing them. Moishe had been shot in the leg and left for dead, but he managed to escape and return to his village. Moishe continued to warn everyone in the village through the years 1942 and into 1943. However, the people dismissed him as a bit out of touch with the times and as a deeply religious person, they dismissed his revelation as a bit over the top and beyond reason. Then, one day, the town is seized by the Nazis and every individual in the village boards a train for the death camps to the north. Elie Wiesel lost his entire family and most of his fellow villagers at the end of that train ride.
Elie Wiesel, in this harrowing account of his experience, reminds us of the need to remain teachable and to remain open to learn from anyone, not just those who look and act like us, are from our generation, or share a similar set of life experiences. If we make the choice to remain teachable and open, we will continue to build and strengthen our character and our Character Creates Opportunity® for us to have a greater impact in our life’s journey.