I love learning. I love helping others learn.
It wasn’t until recently that I’ve become intentional about UNlearning.
We’re often good at asking ourselves, “What can we learn from or through this?” At least, I hope we regularly ask ourselves this. Whether it’s something we experience as positive or negative, we get to learn and grow in every single situation. Most of the time, it has little to do with information. It has more to do with insights and what I wish was more common—that practical, everyday awareness we call common sense. If we only focus on the facts we can learn, the book knowledge, we miss out. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I highly value formal education in its many forms. It gives us tools. But some people gather more tools than they will ever use. Or they misuse the tools they have—for a variety of reasons. As we gather tools, we also have to understand the people, dynamics, relationships, applications, and organization in which and with which to use those tools. That’s one of the benefits to frequently asking, What can we learn from or through this?” It connects the tools with the everyday needs and applications.
But there’s another question we need to ask often: “What can we UNlearn from this?” We learn a lot through the years that we find out was wrong. Sometimes we’re taught wrong, but many times, it’s simply because we misunderstood, or we were taught a small snippet of a much broader picture, because it was best exposure for us at the time. We could get angry with what we have to unlearn, but since it’s often difficult to truly identify the why behind the misguided learning, why spend our time there, when we can simply…unlearn.
What is the process of unlearning? If we think of learning being connections and building, unlearning is not simply the opposite. What we’ve structured is intertwined. In many ways, unlearning takes much more effort and intention than learning. We might prefer to take an easy approach of cutting a chunk of our past learning out and tossing it aside, but there are things within it that are true and important. Unlearning requires a curiosity and humility. It takes reflection and awareness. It takes honesty and effort.
Just as what is true and worthy to be kept is intertwined with what needs to be pared away and replaced, the very processes of learning and unlearning are intertwined. We cannot learn well without unlearning well. Every time we unlearn well, we also learn. As time goes by, we might be tempted to hang onto the things we’ve once had aha moments about. We don’t want to question conclusions we’ve reached. But if those conclusions are based in truth, going through the unlearning and learning process will only be refining. Also as time goes by, we can hang onto some things too loosely, being susceptible to an unlearning process pressed upon us instead of committing to doing the hard work ourselves. Just because something sounds good and seems a better fit doesn’t mean we should grab onto it and live by it.
I find these dynamics in everyday life, as I have conversations, read, and experience. But that isn’t enough for me. Because I do my best to follow Jesus, I trust God to grow me in a variety of ways, including reading and studying the Bible. Some Christians might say they find much affirmation in Scripture. I can’t say it’s affirmation I find as much as encouragement. Affirmation is about me, confirming something about me; encouragement is a nudge to pursue. It’s more about a focus on God and his trustworthiness, as well as my relationship with him, than anything else.
Even more so, I find something else in Scripture. I find a constant learning and unlearning process. I find questions and connections. I find relationships and patterns. Instead of finding arrows and ammunition to aim at others or badges to put on myself and what I want, I find humility and strength. I find myself using a telescope to see God more clearly, then realizing how much closer he actually is. I find myself seeing him in others, even myself at times. I see his words as beautiful mystery that invite me to continue to explore.
And as I explore, I learn. And I unlearn.