On being … a lifelong learner

By Ingrid Sapona

Have you noticed how “lifelong learning” has become a thing? Well, it has. There are lifelong learning institutes and even an entry for it in Wikipedia. (There it’s described as “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.”)  While that sounds lofty, I think that definition is too narrow. Missing from it is the role necessity often plays AND the fact that traditional ways of learning – like classes, lectures, seminars, and discussion groups – aren’t always available or particularly useful.

The first time I really focused on what it means to be a lifelong learner was this past spring when my 92-year-old mother had to learn how to maneuver herself to and from a wheelchair. In the assisted living world, such movement is called transferring. Before moving to the wheelchair she’d been transferring using a walker that was not particularly stable. 

Initially, thinking Mom needed to develop more upper body strength in order to continue using her walker, we got her physiotherapy. That helped her get stronger but her physiotherapist brought in an occupational therapist, who suggested it would be better if Mom used a wheelchair instead of the walker. The two convinced Mom to try it and they worked with her to show her how to safely transfer.

Though it sounds straightforward, there are a lot of little things to learn (and get used to) when using a wheelchair. The occupational therapist was terrific, making suggestions that we’d never have thought of on our own, like angling the wheelchair a certain way, so that the transfer is safer, if not easier. On top of that, the therapists showed us ways of re-configuring her apartment to make it easier for her to get around with the wheelchair.

In the first or second week she was transitioning to using the wheelchair, I remember one day when she was almost in tears because she was overwhelmed at all the things she was having to re-learn to do. But, she took all the suggestions in and figured out how to adapt them, given her personal physical limitations. Besides being impressed (and grateful) at her determination to learn these new skills at 92, I couldn’t help think that she was a living example of a lifelong learner. I also realized what a difference finding the right teachers (the therapists) made.

The other day another lifelong learning example cropped up – this time for me and my sisters. All of us have iPhones and over the past week I had conversations with both my sisters where we all complained about some of the iPhone functions that were changed after the most recent operating system updates Apple pushed through.

Though I’m an Apple fan, I always feel a bit of dread when there’s an operating system update, as I wonder what changes I’ll have to get used to. Though some updates are relatively inconsequential, others install new apps and other “features” I don’t care about. When that happens, I just move the new apps to a folder I created for “extras”.  But some updates make changes to apps I rely on, and this can be extremely frustrating. In some cases, not only are the apparent “improvements” not obvious, it’s irritating to have to figure out how to do things you used to know how to do. 

It used to be that when you bought something, you got a manual that explained how to use it. But these days, if there is a manual, first you have to find it on-line. And, when you do, it’s almost guaranteed to be out-of-date, given how often tech companies update their products. Yes, Apple provides an information blurb with each update, but have you ever tried to make sense of them? The blurbs are jargon filled and cryptic for those who aren’t computer scientists. Here’s the beginning of the blurb for the pending update (for iOS 13.2): The update “… introduces Deep Fusion, and advanced image processing system that uses the A13 Bionic Neural Engine …”. Get that? Well I don’t… Is it any wonder I no longer bother reading the description before tapping: Download and Install?

My tech guru friend Sandy has taught me it’s usually worth googling the issue because sometimes you’ll find information about it. I do that – but often all I can find is reiteration of the tech speak Apple used and I’m no further ahead. If it’s a feature that I really depend on, then as a last resort I ask Sandy for help. But what do folks that don’t have a Sandy of their own do?

Well, the other day, I happened upon a source for helpful Apple operating system tidbits that I hadn’t thought of before. It was a NY Times piece titled: “16 Useful Gems in Apple’s New iOS 13,” by David Pogue. I recognized the name immediately because I’ve seen pieces he’s done for CBS Sunday Morning and I always found them a great combination of entertaining and sensible.

The piece was everything I could hope for – and more. It explained some of the changes my sisters and I were confused about and he talked about some cool features I never would have thought to try. (Surely it wasn’t just me that never realized that every September Apple does a big update – one that rolls out all sorts of things! No wonder my sisters and I felt helpless – it was a September release!)
Besides all the truly useful information in that article, finding it sparked a curiosity that I don’t have when I view tech changes as something merely to be coped with. In other words, it reconnected me with the joy of learning about new ways of using the tools at my disposal. It also helped me realize that I should search out more curated content to learn certain things. (Thank you, New York Times.)

I realize these two stories seem pretty different, but for me, they represent what lifelong learning is all about. At its core, I think lifelong learning is a mindset that accepts that as you go through life, things change and you can either be defeated by them, or you can learn to change too. And, it requires a willingness to try things and to be open to sources of knowledge and information that you might not have been exposed to before.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


On being … allowed

By Ingrid Sapona

I’m writing this on Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. I’ve always loved Thanksgiving and though it took awhile, I’m reconciled to the differences in how it’s celebrated on both sides of the border. For example, in the U.S., once the turkey and pumpkin pie are over, the weekend is focused on football and shopping. Here, folks tend to squeeze in the turkey and pumpkin pie between cottage closing activities and getting out to see the autumn colours.

Despite these subtle differences, for me, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on – and celebrate – all the things in my life that I’m thankful for. Like many, family, friends, food, and a lovely place to call home dominate my list.

But one particular news story from the past week has made me think about how much I have that I value and that I take for granted. The story was about the fact that for the first time in decades, women were allowed to attend a FIFA World Cup qualifying match in Iran. When I first heard the story, I thought I misunderstood. I had never heard – or thought – about women being prohibited from attending a soccer game.

I admit that I have exactly zero interest in soccer (at the World Cup level or any level), so perhaps it should not have surprised me that I’d never heard that women going to a game was an issue. I remembered being shocked at the news in 2018 that women in Saudi Arabia had finally “won” the right to drive, but I never thought much about what else women needed permission for in some places.

Though there are obvious common denominators to these two stories, somehow the idea of not being able to attend a soccer game seems very different to me. I guess I always assumed that things like driving bans are rooted in some misguided view of what women are capable of. All those ridiculous fictions about women being the weaker sex, or not as physically as capable, or not able to concentrate and focus – arguments that are total crap – are what I assumed were behind the panoply of limitations put on women in so many parts of the world. But none of these excuses could possibly apply to women who simply want to attend a soccer game.

Financial circumstance is another factor that often has a more direct impact on women than men. How many stories we’ve heard of families who – when they can’t afford to educate all their children – choose to only educate the boys. Of course, often what’s behind such decisions is another unfairness: the fact that girls are expected to work at home, while boys are free to learn – or just play. But even if we assume that poverty is equally disadvantageous to men and women – money can’t be behind why Iranian women soccer fans were not allowed to attend a game. (Clearly these women had the financial means to afford to attend a FIFA World Cup qualifying match.)

I’ve always been aware of the tremendous good fortune of having been born where – and when – I was. I don’t think I’ve ever taken that for granted. So, while I knew from an early age that there were things I wouldn’t be able to do or be – for example, a physician, an astrophysicist, or a concert pianist – I’ve always believed the reasons for this have to do with my personal aptitudes, skills, and interests. In other words, these things were never off limits because of my gender.

Mind you, I’m not saying there’s true equality between men and women in Canada or the U.S. – the wage gap and glass ceiling are prime examples of the inequality that still exists. But women are not systemically discriminated against here, as they are in so many other places in the world.

I suppose, in the spirit of celebrating Thanksgiving, I could embrace the Iranian soccer game story as a victory for Iranian women. Indeed, maybe it will prove to be the first step in “allowing” women other freedoms. I certainly hope it is. But honestly, though the story brought home to me all the freedoms I enjoy, more than anything, it made me angry for all the women of the world who need special permission to do something as simple as attend a soccer game.

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona