Categorized | Sondra's Musings, Features

Wisdom & Old Age Allow The Mind To Soar During COVID-19


Wisdom provides the tools to face challenges more effectively, to adapt and accept conditions out of our control.


By Sondra L. Shapiro

With more time on my hands as I stay at home out of harm’s way, I’ve been reminiscing about conversations from long ago — ones that had an impact on my life. One of those memories was a beautiful, early spring day several years ago as my friend and I walked though my neighborhood.

Instead of noticing the fresh air, azaleas or budding trees, I was intently listening to my friend, who was sharing what she had just learned — the secret to maintaining her sanity. I was less amazed by the lesson and more impressed that my friend, who had always been impatient and judgmental, could suddenly change so drastically. It all had to do with accumulated wisdom.

For years, my friend allowed an annoying relative to get under her skin. This relative would do her best to get everyone in her wake to feel sorry for her, to make these people feel guilty about the way they treated her or, rather, how she perceived she was being treated.

Unfortunately, my friend would get very stressed and angry every time this relative started in with her guilt trips. This went on until my friend discovered she could just tune out her relative.

My suddenly pragmatic friend said, “Words can’t hurt unless you allow them to.” I could tell by the peaceful look on her face that she was right.

This time, as my friend relayed the latest drama involving her relative, she was actually smiling and joking about the incident.

“Wow,” I said, “wouldn’t that have been great if you had tried this a long time ago?” Then I realized the error in my statement: My friend wouldn’t have had enough life experience to realize the correct way to handle the relative.

She was finally at a place in life where she could work it all out. That kind of lesson requires lots of time and patience.

It was during this encounter that I received a lesson of my own. There is truth in the idiom that with age comes wisdom. We were in our early 50s at the time.

Wisdom is Continuous Progression

It doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, wisdom requires a continuous progression. We learn from day-to-day experiences.

No one is too old to learn new things — sports, hobbies, a foreign language and, most importantly, ways to attain inner peace and happiness. There’s plenty of time right now to get started.

It is true that as we get older our cognitive functions slow, memories fade. I prefer to believe that we have so much information stored in our brain, it just takes longer to access things. Another friend and I jokingly liken this to trying to access information from a file cabinet stuffed with folders.

Many underestimate the extent of their intelligence because they negate the knowledge one acquires from everyday life. Just because someone isn’t book learned doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. The lessons learned from experience are the most efficient way to live a happier life and to grow wise.

Wisdom Helps People Adapt

Wisdom is a tool that helps people better adapt — or accept — qualities that many older people tend to possess.

According to the online reference guide, How Stuff Works, which compiled data from studies that look for ways to define wisdom, common qualities include: “intelligence and knowledge; an understanding of human nature (including the concepts of uncertainty and relativism between cultures); emotional resiliency; humility; an ability to learn from experience; openness; superior judgment; and problem-solving skills.”

At 66, I find myself looking at the big picture when dealing with problems and finding solutions, especially during these days of social isolation. Putting things in context was not easy when I was younger. I would react, and then obsess. When I heard recent gossip about myself, I recalled my friend’s lesson about tuning out hurtful words. While I won’t say I wasn’t initially upset, it didn’t take me long to get over it.

This seemed alien to what has always been my sensitive nature. With the benefit of perspective, I recalled experiencing this type of trouble before and suffering many sleepless nights mulling over it. Looking back, I realized all my angst was for naught. Everything worked out just fine with no action on my part and with no lasting harm to my emotional wellbeing.

Monika Ardelt, an associate sociology professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville, developed a scale to assess wisdom. In a New York Times article on age and wisdom, she said, “Wise people are able to accept reality as it is, with equanimity.” I am certainly calmer these days and more sensible — a condition that has been put to the test these last weeks, even though I’m in the risk group for getting the COVID-19 infection.

Ensuring Mental Acuity

To help ensure a state of mental acuity during social isolation, instead of sitting on the coach binge watching Netflix, take online courses, read, tackle new hobbies or volunteer at a non-profit, practicing social distancing guidelines, of course. I help out at a no-kill cat shelter at least once a week and I think the animals do more for me than I do for them. When I leave I feel mentally refreshed and happy. Being aware of the world around us, making ourselves available to those in need and listening to other perspectives help us grow emotionally and intellectually.

Journal writing, another exercise to do during the these long days of being homebound,  allows us to track progress and to continue growth. When I look back at the diaries I have kept, I realize how much I have changed. My world perspective used to be so narrow. Solutions to problems were such a struggle and rarely had a good result. What was I thinking? These days those problems wouldn’t give me pause.

While I understand we can’t prevent the decline of body in old age, wisdom provides the tools to face challenges more effectively, to adapt and accept conditions out of our control. The wisdom to take the necessary precautions to keep safe during these scary times but still find opportunities to let our minds soar.

Sondra Shapiro is the publisher of Fifty Plus Life. She can be reached at Read more at Follow her at


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