Lessons from the young and the old

One of my favourite pastimes is to watch people. Observing people, studying how they interact and respond to others’ behaviour is fascinating. The number of things that you can learn from simply observing others is quite astonishing.  My ability to read and understand people is a skill set that I have acquired and developed from my years of listening, talking, and interacting with patients. Due to the nature of my job, I’ve had the privilege of dealing with a wide array of people from different walks of life. The groups that I find particularly interesting to observe are kids and older folk. Looking at their faces and seeing how they interact with the world has given me an understanding of how interesting our lives are despite how mediocre we all consider them to be.

The reason why I find these two groups of people so fascinating is that their reactions are usually as genuine and real as you can possibly get. There is absolutely no hiding behind the curtains, no beating around the bush. What you see is what you get.  There is a sense of innocence, naiveness, simplicity, and curiosity that comes with a child while a sense of poise, subtleness, and wisdom for older folk. Such a portrait of realism is fading in our society, particularly in my generation and the generations to come.  What I admire the most is that many of the older folk that I have come across in the past still have the capacity to never stop asking questions, challenge the status quo, and most importantly, still have a life despite the number of health hurdles they have had to endure. While on the other hand, the untamed nature of a child in a capitalistic world gives us hope that we are capable of simplicity and curiosity. I truly believe simplicity and curiosity are the antidotes to the chaos we are seeing in the world right now. From an emotional perspective, it’s not easy to be optimistic when life can often feel hard, confusing, and unfair. In fact, problems almost always pile up and things never go exactly according to plan. So how do we combat our fear for the unknown and adopt a simplistic and curious approach to life? The truth is that we are often the person sprinkling salt over our fresh wounds.

I came across a patient this week where we had a lengthy conversation about her insomnia. She had been having trouble sleeping for almost a month. Upon asking, I found out her daughter’s recent health problems were keeping her up at night. She said her mind just couldn’t rest and stop thinking about how to help her daughter. She was constantly trying to find an answer to her problems because she believed she was responsible for her daughter’s suffering. Life can be unapologetic sometimes, from the moment we’re born, we enter this world where the weight of responsibility and expectation gets placed on our shoulders. Especially now I’m a parent myself, I can relate to her feelings completely. There is nothing in this world that can prepare you to deal with sick loved ones.

I honestly think it is tremendously hard work to juggle not just the responsibility, but the pressure that comes with finding a perfect solution to a problem. Maybe what we don’t realise is that we are trying to find answers to an unsolvable problem or sometimes we simply don’t have an answer that works. Instead, all you can come up with is a solution that has the highest probability of success. Now it may turn out the way you wanted it to – but there is no certainty about that, what is certain is that it is your best bet in moving forward. It’s often the case that you get to pick poison A or poison B but you don’t get to pick the elixir of life. However, I don’t believe that’s a reason to be particularly pessimistic because you simply cannot predict what life is going to throw at you.

Whatever problems arise in your life, do not let finding a solution restrict you from being curious and making discoveries about who you are. Tackling life with the wisdom of older folk but still maintaining the simple and curious mind of a child is the antidote to the world we’re living in. Adopting this attitude will avoid getting paralysed by everything that’s going on, make us appreciate what we have, open ourselves up to accept new things, and allow us to respond to challenges with greater flexibility. After all, when I look at my son and his natural instinct of handling whatever challenges throw at him (whether is crawling, taking in his surroundings, or learning to acknowledge his feelings), it has given me tremendous insight into how I should live my life.

To a wise, simple, and curious life,