“As we get older, we get wiser. At what age are we the smartest?”

That’s the question that was asked of contestants at a Toastmasters Table Topics competition I attended recently. In a Table Topics contest, participants are given the question, and must immediately give a one- to two-minute response. The purpose of Table Topics, in competition and at regular Toastmasters meetings, is to help people learn to think on their feet, organize their thoughts quickly, and give a confident, intelligent-sounding response to spur-of-the-moment questions.

In competition, each contestant is asked the same question, so they’re sequestered in a different room until it’s their turn to speak. That way, no one has the advantage of hearing other opinions, or having more time to think about the question.

I wasn’t competing, so I was able to be in the main room and hear all the responses. One of the contestants talked about being life-long learners, and encouraged everyone to keep learning – and therefore to continue becoming smarter – at every age. Another pondered different age ranges and suggested that between the ages of 50 and 60 we are probably the smartest.

But the contestant who impressed me the most – and who won the contest – was a former teacher of young children. And she named a specific age at which we are the smartest: 4 years old.

That was the age of the children she taught, and she pointed out that in her experience, 4-year-olds know everything, and will tell you so in no uncertain terms. At age 4, children are also fearless, and have limitless imaginations.

The contestant shared a few entertaining observations about the wisdom of 4-year-olds, but she also had a serious message built into her response. She admired the curiosity and kindness of 4-year-olds, and all the qualities they had at that age that would, sadly, likely diminish as they grew older and were exposed to more of the real world we live in. But at age 4, they still had the innocence and enthusiasm she admired. She added that she learned as much from them as they learned from her.

One of the things I always do when I hear a Table Topics question is consider how I would have answered it. For this one, my response would have been similar to the one about life-long learning. I probably would have added that just by living, we are always taking in new information and learning new things, whether we realize it or not. So the age at which we are the smartest would be whatever age we are on the day we die. That’s a bit morbid, though, so it probably wouldn’t have scored well in the contest.

So – what do  you think? At what age would you say we are the smartest?

If you can’t decide, feel free to ask any 4-year-old.

November 15, 2022
©Betty Liedtke, 2022

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