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County Hall Corner: Something to Think About

After focusing on candidates for the past couple of months, let’s shift the focus to our own well-being. Many folks who are concerned about their health prioritize exercise, diet, and proper rest. But there is something else that is necessary that no one seems to mention. It is in your brain, and it has to do with life-long learning.

Learning is a vital part of life. In fact, when we stop learning, we start dying. Yes, that is true. New knowledge creates synaptic cells in our brain to grow, which take the place of those that are dying off. When we stop learning, our brain figures we are done with life, and the lights slowly begin to get turned off. Yes, disease and hereditary genes definitely impact life expectancy, but the one factor that can keep us going in spite of these is new learning.

Scientific proof of this came from a very unusual place — a convent in Minnesota. In 1986, Dr. David Snowden, an epidemiologist and professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky, was curious when he became aware of a convent in Mankato, Minnesota, whose nuns routinely lived into their 90s and even 100s. What was their secret?

Dr. Snowden discovered that one of the primary focuses of their order was that an idle mind is a devil’s playground. Thus, these nuns were always learning, even taking college courses in their 90s. As he read their detailed daily journals, he began to develop a theory that mental stimulation is linked with longevity and the sharpness of the mind. The nuns permitted tissue samples to be taken after they died, and it confirmed that their brains were continually growing. This study has been continued up to the present day and continues to confirm these findings. Granted, the body does wear out eventually, but apparently, the brain is much more important to overall health than is generally realized.

There has been an emphasis for some time on early learning, but it is time to emphasize late learning as well. Unfortunately, we think of learning as something that happens in our formative years, and after age thirty or so, most folks only want to learn if it is absolutely necessary. The result of this is that we take in information from various sources based on our knowledge base, and when it is limited or dated, we will make decisions, choices, and decisions that are less informed than they should be.

Part of the reason our country is in the mess it is right now can be attributed to our current culture, in which many are more interested in winsome amusement than factual wisdom. Consider the popularity of “influencers” over experts. According to ChatGPT, an influencer is “Someone who has a significant online following and can shape opinions and trends. They may not necessarily be experts in a specific domain. Their influence is often a result of their relatability, personality, or their ability to connect with their audience.”

Compare this to the definition of an expert: “Someone who has a deep and specialized knowledge in a particular field or subject. They have typically acquired their expertise through education, training, and experience. Their insights and advice are based on their proficiency and are often backed by evidence and extensive knowledge.”

There is a great amount of fear right now, considering the state of affairs in the United States and the trouble spots around the globe. We need to recognize whether our elected leaders know what they are doing, and that depends on our own perspective. It’s time to put our brains in gear and begin to dwell on the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and other foundational books such as the “Federalist Papers,” “Democracy in America” by Alexis Tocqueville or “Common Sense” by Thomas Paine.

Those who think that they have been enlightened by the highly criticized Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” or Nikole Hannah-Jones’s “1619 Project” should dive into classics such as the multi-volume “The Oxford History of the United States” series which is authored by respected scholars and aims for a balanced and comprehensive approach.

And for those who are addicted to fiction, try reading the novels 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell for a wider political perspective, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain to understand human nature, or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley to see where we may be going.

Final thought, Dr. J. Robert Clinton’s book, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development, notes that the one common aspect of every one of the 700 leaders he studied from a broad spectrum of disciplines and nationalities was that they were all life-long learners.

Good advice for us all — live long by learning.