My daughter is a tween and is just starting to think that she is smart and I am stupid. We therefore had a little talk this morning. Or, rather, I gave her a short lecture. I explained that, when I was young and my mother, like me, was in her late 40s, we used to do Israeli folk dancing together, a very popular activity amongst Jews in the early- to mid-1970s. I learned dances in an instant, remembered them forever and was as light as a feather. My mother learned dances painfully over days and weeks, forgot them quickly, and moved stiffly. My teenage mind reached an instant and absolute conclusion: I was much smarter than my mother.
It’s only now that I’m my mother’s age, of course, that I see what was actually going on. When we’re young, our fairly empty minds absorb information like sponges. When we’re old, and our brains have hardened, we throw information at ourselves and hope that some of it sticks. Confusing memory with intelligence, however, is a mistake. As I explained to my daughter, while I may be slower to learn now than I was 30 years ago, I still know infinitely more than she does based upon those 30 years of experience, both in terms of hard facts and life knowledge. My last words to her were that, as she grows older, she should never confuse my slow learning ability, which is a product of age, with a lack of intelligence.
Surprisingly, rather than appearing hostile, my little bookworm seemed rather impressed by this speech. We’ll see how it goes as time goes by — but she certainly now has more insight than I did into the difference between age and wisdom, on the one hand, and youth and memory, on the other hand.