Learning Begins by Unlearning

May 5, 2018 by Charlie Hedges − 0 Comments

Transformation is often more about unlearning than learning, which is why the religious traditions call it “repentance.” Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

“Repentance.” Yea, that is a pretty religious word with all kinds of negative implications. But… the Greek meaning of the word is simply “to change one’s mind.” Now changing your mind is not always quite so easy. We are immersed in a “my way or the highway” culture, in which many people truly believe their way is the right way and anyone that doesn’t agree is an idiot.

On the other hand, there’s a phrase going around that goes something like, “the older I get the less I know.” I disagree. The older I get the more I know. I am getting smarter. But I can also say this, “the older I get the less I know for sure.” At thirty-five I was sure about a lot more than I am at sixty-eight.

Changing My Mind

As you know I am a fan of the Tim Ferriss podcast. At the end of his shows he generally asks his guest, “If you could place a billboard anywhere you wanted, what would you say on it.” My answer to that question is most assuredly, “Change Your Mind.” And changing your mind most often requires some kind of “unlearning” in order to learn anew.

And what is life if not an opportunity to discover and explore and learn new things while in the process, forcing us to change our mind about some things we may have even held dear. I’ve been a youthful hippie Democrat, a yuppie Republican, a more mature Libertarian to now when I can find no political group to affiliate. Those changes were not flippant, I had to unlearn and relearn to finally come up with the decision I don’t like any of my choices, so I find myself independent.

I used to laugh at abstract art, now it’s my favorite art medium. I was a deep, deep Dodger fan for thirty-five years. Then my son was drafted by the Padres and yep, Dodgers? Who are they?

I was once mildly on the more conservative side of social issues, until I met some of the people disenfranchised by the Conservatives and discovered human beings that simply thought differently than me about their personal issues. I experienced a huge unlearning of my prejudices, and I am now an advocate for many on the “left side” of the social equation.

2nd Half Living

I guess I find that in my “second half of life” I cherish the opportunity to discover new ways of seeing life and interpreting it, knowing that I have been held hostage by my colloquial American biases. For that reason I travel to foreign countries frequently. I want to understand how other people think about life—everyday life and deeply seated cultural belief systems. And in the process, I have been afforded the privilege of unlearning some things I deeply believed and have come out the other side wiser and more open.

I’ve experienced acute poverty (more like 4th world poverty than 3rd world). I’ve learned about socialism first hand, seen it’s amazing opportunities and also seen the troubling downsides of the system. I’ve learned to rethink food, housing, ideas about the work ethics, vacation time, ways to raise children, and dozens more.

You Could Be Wrong

One thing is required for significant personal learning: the willingness to unlearn; the willingness to admit, “I could be wrong.” Several years ago I met with an Episcopal bishop. At the time I was still a theological conservative moving into a more liberal tradition. When I questioned the bishop about some of his actions what he said to me has governed my thinking twenty-five years later: “Charlie,” said the bishop, “we preach the Gospel with modesty and humility, always knowing that, as humans, we could be wrong!

I can be wrong and surely I am many times. I find this thought most comforting. It leads me to experience wisdom and an open perspective of life.

Be Ready to Unlearn

You Could Be Wrong! 

Photo courtesy of fizkes at istockphoto

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