Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thankful for Knowledge

My An Arkie's Faith column from the November 25, 2020, issue of The Polk County Pulse.

It is the time of year again when the calendar says that we should be thankful. We have so much to be grateful for every single day. But sometimes, the demands and worries of daily life make it easier to feel defeated than to be thankful. You might say, “what can we possibly be thankful for in 2020?” It has been a rough year, and it’s not over yet. In times like these, when each day seems to bring another depressing headline or numbing statistic, it is essential to take the time to be thankful. This year, expressing gratitude is more important than ever. Our focus should be on what we do have, not what we don’t have.

What are you thankful for this year? What things, people, and ideas are you appreciating right now? I am genuinely grateful for my family, friends, country, community, and especially for Jesus and the grace he shows me every day. But another thing that I am thankful for is knowledge. Today, knowledge is much easier to obtain than when I was younger. I have always been a curious person. I remember researching things before I could access the internet. I would go to the library and search through the card catalog. Then I would find several books to check out and read. Now, when I am interested in learning about a topic, I can quickly access the internet on my phone. 

While using the internet to research knowledge, I came across an article about The Knowledge. It piqued my interest, and I had to read further. The Knowledge is London’s legendary taxi-driver test. It has been around since the 1800s. To be licensed as an “All London” taxi driver, the applicant needs a thorough knowledge of all the streets, parks, hospitals, restaurants, places of worship, sports stadiums, hotels, clubs, theatres, museums, schools, police stations, and any other sites of interest to tourists.

The Knowledge focuses on the six-mile radius from Charing Cross, the center of London. The area has over 25,000 streets. London cabbies need to know all of those streets, which ones are one-way, and where to enter and exit traffic circles. But cabbies also need to know everything on the streets. 

The test a London cabbie must pass to gain their qualification has been called the most demanding test, of any kind, in the world. It is an intellectual, psychological, and physical ordeal, with thousands of hours of immersive study. Would-be cabbies attempt to commit to memory all of London and demonstrate their knowledge through a series of challenging oral examinations. The process takes an average of four years to complete, and for some, much longer than that. When they finally pass The Knowledge, they can become a London taxi driver.

According to a BBC News article, “the structure of a London taxi driver’s brain changes during the grueling process of learning the quickest way around the capital. Dozens of trainee drivers had MRI scans before and after acquiring The Knowledge, memorizing thousands of journeys and street names. Seventy-nine taxi driver trainees were given brain scans by scientists at University College London just before they started to learn The Knowledge, which usually takes four years to complete.”

Throughout the learning process, any changes to their brains were mapped by regular MRI scans. Compared with similar scans from non-taxi drivers, those who had attempted The Knowledge increased the size of the posterior hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with navigation. “There seems to be a definite relationship between the navigating they do as a taxi driver and the brain changes,” said Dr. Eleanor Maguire, who led the research team. She said: “By following the trainee taxi drivers over time as they acquired The Knowledge, we have seen directly and within individuals how the structure of the hippocampus can change with external stimulation.”

When we exercise our brain, we can improve our brain’s abilities. Are you exercising your brain? Can you exercise just once a year and expect improvement? Thanksgiving is the time of the year that we exercise our feelings of gratefulness and thankfulness for everything in our life. But what about the rest of the year? Isn’t it important to be thankful all year round, and not just one day?

With so much negativity in the world, it can be hard to acknowledge the good things in life. But if we exercise thankfulness in our brains, it can change our perception. When you approach life with thanks and appreciation, you acknowledge what you have instead of what you wish you had. Research has shown that people who regularly practice gratitude are more relaxed, more resilient, have a more positive outlook on life. Being grateful can impact every part of your life. We can choose, every day, to be thankful. When we have a thankful heart, our gratitude releases the grip that our problems seem to have over us. 

Gentle Reader, Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I thank God every time I remember you. And I always pray for all of you with joy.” Philippians 1:3,4 (ICB) Thankfulness was a daily part of Paul’s life. He wrote about being thankful dozens of times. He believed that thankfulness should be exercised every day, not just once a year. “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20 (NCV) Even when the Thanksgiving holiday is over, let’s resolve to follow Paul’s advice found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV); “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

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