Some of us have been talking a lot about learning lately. I like to think that (in general) I enjoy learning. I have a naturally curious mind, but if I’m honest, I’m not always eager to learn something new. For example: I still don’t know how to use my TV remote or how to navigate anything on it. Could I learn this in a quick 5 minutes? Sure. My 7 year-old did. But I don’t really care to learn it because I don’t watch TV — at least not on the television. It doesn’t pertain to me so my eagerness to learn is zip. Let’s take that a step further: if it doesn’t relate to me, I have zero interest in learning about it. This is an accurate statement. Much of what I have taken the time to learn is attributed to necessity, not just curiosity.
While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about unlearning. It’s a painfully proven fact that if I learn certain things the wrong way the first time, I will struggle to remember the right way after this. Case in point: directions. If I take a wrong turn the first time while navigating somewhere new, my brain makes a red sharpie note of it. The next time I attempt to get to this place, my brain remembers the first impression (route) much better than the ones after. It’s just the way I’m wired. I wish it wasn’t because I feel quite helpless at times (even with GPS) getting to places. It’s an area that doesn’t come naturally to me (sense of direction) and it’s only made worse by the fact that my brain is deeply imprinted by its first impression. So, unlearning (then relearning) is actually much harder for me than learning.
Here’s the issue with my learning style: it’s better for me to get it right the first time since my brain will underscore that path, yet it’s very unlikely that I will get much of anything right the first time because of the nature of being human. Therein lies my trouble. It may be your trouble, too, if our lives intersect in any way and I want to say I’m sorry for that.
To learn something means we don’t know or were never taught. The only reason any of us has to unlearn and relearn something is because we didn’t learn it correctly the first time (or 10th, 11th, etc.) and the process of dismantling begins. I can only speculate but my guess is that for many, the deconstructing work of unlearning is much more challenging because we have already built upon faulty logic. If we don’t know something, there’s nothing to build on. It’s a clean slate and a clear pathway.
With all this sorted out I think the point(s) I’m trying to make is whatever is first imprinted upon us, well, imprints us. It shapes our ideology about life, people, and the present and future. Even (actually, especially) God. Our very first learned truths and givens, behaviors and mechanisms, experiences and internalizations stick with us stronger. Imagine a piece of tape. Then imagine that tape removed and reapplied. Then removed and applied again. Each time it is undone and reapplied it is done with less sticking power. I have absolutely no science or reference for this hypothesis outside of my own waning learning ability and experience. I simply see this pattern in my brain and life. And since this is the case, I’m wondering how difficult it is for many like me (41 years into building on mixed foundations) to successfully unravel and restitch. Old dog, new tricks? Surely I’m not old yet.
Where am I ultimately going with this? Well, in the muted week of listening to and learning from those who have important things to say, I realized how difficult it truly is for most of us to see our dysfunction, prejudice, error and arrogance, and anything else that comes in with faulty first impressions. And what if it’s then further confirmed with continued impressions? We can easily have skyscraper-structures of misinformation by my age. I know I do, and the rebar runs deep into my beginnings.
Most of my education from here on out will be unlearning and relearning. And I think it’s safe to say that many more things pertain to me than I care to learn. This is the tension of being a limited creature in a vast world. And a good number of us simply don’t have the capacity for learning new things because we are not willing to tear down the erroneous old things. It’s hard work, I tell ya. The hardest work.