Friday, June 1, 2012

Week in Review: Unlikely classrooms

This afternoon our office was bursting with the curiosity, passion and energy of 34 fifth graders from Sonoma Country Day School.

Between the guest speakers, reading clubs, brown bag discussions at lunch time, our library and everyone running around in t-shirts and jeans, our office often feels like a classroom -- but as these kids bounced into the room wide-eyed and full of questions, their presence reinvigorated our own eagerness to learn.

Their openness to new concepts highlights how often preconceived notions, expectations and reputation can inhibit one's ability to fully absorb a new experience. In Zen buddhism, the concept of shoshin, meaning the "beginner's mind," encourages people to approach everything -- new and old -- with the zeal and optimism of a beginner. When you're young this comes naturally because everything is new, but as you get older and settle into routines and habits the ability to see the world this way begins to weaken, like an underused muscle. 

But, like all muscles, with training it can regenerate. As a recent Huffington Post article put it, "Even in old age, it turns out our brains have more plasticity to adapt and help us than was once thought. Old dogs, in short, can learn a lot of new tricks"-- and should.

Research consistently shows that learning is the single variable tied most directly to improved health, longevity, and happiness. Whether its acquiring a new skill, building on existing skills, joining a new group, or meeting new people, the fountain on youth may be hidden in a life of learning. 

Growing up, my mom would ask me each night, "What did you learn?" But maybe I should have been asking her that question instead. So, as I write this I can't help but think about all the things I learned this week...

* A This American Life podcast taught me about the hallowing massacre of the entire (well, almost entire...) Ecuadorian village of Dos Erres.

* Precarious as it might be, Mayor Bloomberg's ban on the sale of sugary beverages larger than 16 oz. taught me that a can of soda contains ten sugar cubes worth of sugar.

* Researching the development of Burkina Faso taught me how things like happiness indexes alter they way people perceive their own experiences.

* The first time London hosted the Olympics in 1908 the games lasted 187 days.

*This New York Times article taught me to see my generation and our relationship with our parents in a new way.

As we ready the Kiva office for our 19th class of Fellows to come for a week of training before being sent out into the field, I find myself inspired to flex my shoshin muscle. 

What did you learn this week? Tell us about it at

If you're in New York, attend the One Day on Earth screening tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. EST and the cost of your ticket will be donated to Kiva! Tickets available here.