02 November 2010

Learning to Unlearn

After teaching for 20 years or so, I've reached an important conclusion:  most people don't need to spend nearly as much time learning as they need to spend time unlearning what they think they already "know."  Most of us go through our daily lives guided by sets of beliefs about everything that surrounds us--how other people should act, how things should turn out, why people are motivated to do certain things, what's right and what's wrong--in the belief that those things that we think we know are cast in stone, unchangeable, and forever.  But life's not like that--the things that we've learned in our lives almost always turn out to be flawed in some way or another, and one of the major flaws of most of them is that what we believe to be true can hurt us and can hurt other people.

I see this type of belief in my students all the time.  They think that things should be a certain way--men should marry women early, women should be submissive to their male partners, people of certain nationalities or races shouldn't be in certain social situations.  All of the ugly and harmful beliefs that their parents have carried with them are now firmly entrenched in the psyches of their kids, and the ugliness gets perpetuated.

But if we can help people to unlearn what they think they know, we can help them to live their lives more freely and more happily.  I know someone who becomes extremely depressed when she tells her mother something and her mother doesn't respond as she expected.  This person has learned that if people don't act or react as she expects them to, then those people are wrong to hurt her in that way.  She would be doing herself a great favor if she were to unlearn this expectation, for it's making her miserable.  She's learned that people "should" react in certain ways, and what she's learned simply isn't true.

Other people have "learned" that they're stupid from other uncaring people; some have "learned" that if they don't drive certain cars then they're worthless; some have "learned" that it's terrible to make mistakes, so when they do make them, they deny them.  How free these people could be if they could just unlearn the warped and inaccurate lessons!

What have you learned that doesn't serve you well at all?  What kinds of misguided beliefs have become a part of who you are simply because someone, somewhere, has taught you something that's harmful and damaging to you?  I don't know about you, but I can't unlearn quickly enough-- the sooner I get rid of the ideas, beliefs, and "knowledge" that are keeping me down, the sooner my life will be improving dramatically.

Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world.

A Course In Miracles

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Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.

Mark Twain

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