Old Dogs CAN Learn New Tricks

There is a primitive part of the brain that science identified years ago as containing a human’s innate instinct for survival.  This behavior comes without conscious thought and is a reflex to be on guard and scan our environment for threats or “what’s wrong”.  When mankind lived in the bushes and was under constant threat the instinct served us very well.  In today’s environment the “what’s wrong” reflex can easily get misapplied and overused to cause fault finding where there are none.

All people have flaws and my life experience has shown me I have more than most.  Yet, in awareness and through consistent hard work to get past my defects of character I believe I am healthy, moral and mentally strong today.  However, no matter what, some people will always see me as I once was and not as the me I am today.  There is nothing I can do about that, but it still bothers me sometimes.

This week an ex-wife contacted me through email and with a three note exchange it because obvious she was viewing me as I once was.  Yes, I lied to her.  Yes, I cheated on her. In the end what happened literally broke my heart and showed me the lowest lows of my life.  There was great pain for both of us, but good did come of it for me.  The end of the relationship was the wakeup call where I was finally able to see my behavior for what it was and begin work in earnest to get better. Today I am well balanced and whole inside.  The feeling of being “not good enough” is quite dim most of the time and no where near what it used to be.  Simply I am the best I have ever been inwardly and outwardly.  My ‘ex’ does not see that though.

In contemplating the happening of yesterday I ended up taking issue with such sayings as “a leopard cannot change its spots”, a tiger can’t change its stripes” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.  Maybe you can’t teach a critter new tricks or get them to change their very color, but humans can change through intention and determination.  Heck, dogs, tigers and leopards live at best around 15-17 years and a human lives five or more times that.  Maybe if the animals lived as long as people their stripes, spots and tricks could change.

In pondering this whole subject and poking around on the internet I found that people often accept as truth sayings that are absolutely contradictory.  For example:

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” VS.  “You’re never too old to learn.”
“Actions speak louder than words.” VS.  “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
“Silence is golden.” VS.  “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
“Never judge a book by its cover.” VS.  “Clothes make the man.”
“Opposites attract.” VS. “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Did you know that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” was a marketing slogan dreamed up in the early 1900’s by American apple growers concerned that the temperance movement would cut into sales of apple cider?  While apples are good for you, believing that because of an advertising catchphrase shows how gullible we are.

Further, we often bastardize sayings beyond their original meaning.  It is not unusual to hear someone say “He got off scot free” and I’ll bet you 99% of people believe they are making some reference to Scottish people.  In reality “scot” is an old Norse word that means “payment” so the phrase has an original meaning of “not having to pay”.

Another is “If you think that, you have another thing coming” which is supposed to end with “another THINK coming”.  That error is so wide spread if you Google “another thing coming” you’ll get something like 150,000 results, while “another think coming” returns about one fourth of that.

I take great exception with the saying “people don’t change”.  Yes, we all have ingrained personality traits, but we are not held captive by them.  To believe I can not change is only encouraging myself to accept my weaknesses.  A comparison of my self of today with person I was a few years ago shows me I am the same, yet so much more than I was. Unchanged is how I think and process information but experience, recovery and hard work has changed the way I interpret everything and how I act. Every day adds a new layer of character. That’s why I find myself today approaching getting older with optimism rather than dread. I am grateful to know and believe what Emerson wrote “As we grow old the beauty steals inward.”

Growth is the only evidence of life.
John Henry Newman

3 thoughts on “Old Dogs CAN Learn New Tricks

  1. James, thank you I enjoyed this post immensely.

    I will be performing my amends shortly and your words resonated with me as I see parallels with my feelings. From the … wakeup call.. to finally able to see my behavior for what it was and begin work in earnest to get better. I initially feared that “My ‘ex’ (will) not see that though”, but I need to press on because the amends are for my benefit and progress. How the recipient interprets my apology is not up to me. Thanks for your inspiration.

  2. The 12th Step says once the spiritual awakening happens, each is responsible to pass on what they have learned. I thank you for confirming that in some small way I was able to do that and help you in your journey. The blessing of your kind words mean a lot to me! Thank you.

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