Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Unlearning

In the last chapter of Reggie McNeal's book Get A Life!, he discusses what we need to learn. But before he talks about that, he brings up something of equal or maybe even greater importance: what we need to un-learn. Before we learn new things, most of us need to un-learn some old things.

I found this to be quite eye-opening and helpful. It seems so simple, but can explain so much. Here's a bit of what he says... (pp. 132-134)
The unlearning curve often proves as steep as or even steeper than the learning curve. The unlearning may need to occur in various areas of your life. You may have to unlearn attitudes as well as actions, reactions as well as habits. The unlearning has to take place in order to clear the decks for the learning that needs to happen. You don't have the room or capacity for the new attitudes, new behaviors, or new habits until you first lose the old ones.

Perhaps you need simply to unlearn some annoying behaviors that put other people off in conversation, such as finishing other people's sentences or saying aloud everything that comes into your mind. Maybe you need to unlearn a tone of voice that sends negative signals to other people. Or you might need to unlearn the habit of frowning when you aren't really upset.

The unlearning may need to extend to more serious behaviors that are destructive to your life potential. For instance, you may need to unlearn some emotional responses that get you in trouble with other people and create problems for you in your relationships, your workplace, or your family. Chief among these unlearning needs often is the need to unlearn inappropriate responses to anger. Anger management is something we laugh at in movies or make jokes about with our friends. But when people are forced to deal with our unmanaged anger responses, it's no laughing matter.

Many of us learned our response to anger (good or bad) from our family of origin. Some of us were taught to deny anger because it was an unacceptable emotion. Of course anger doesn't go away because we pretend it isn't there. It just comes out in other ways. Perhaps we develp a critical spirit or hostility toward others, or exhibit a biting sense of humor that hurts other people. Or, we might turn the anger in on ourselves, punishing ourselves with poor self-esteem. Some of us learned to go overboard when expressing anger, maybe including physical violence or belligerent temper tantrums. Replacing these poor anger responses with healthy anger management involves first identifying the behaviors and their causes that are creating the problem. We literally have to unlearn how we have handled this difficult emotion in the past.

Maybe you need to unlearn some attitude, like prejudice, or your expectations of others or yourself. Perhaps the way you treat people who are different from you begins with an attitude that says, "Different is not good," or "I am the standard for what normal is." These are mental and emotional attitudes that need to be unlearned to make room for alternative perspectives.

Even the way we view our life's contributions or ambitions may need to be challenged, unlearned, in order for a more productive life to be possible for us. As we have talked about your life's vision, identified the values that will support this vision, explored what the scorecard for your life accomplishments might look like, and examined your talent, you probably have been presented with insights that challenge the way you think and behave. These challenges point out what you've got to empty out of the suitcase you've been carrying through life to this point so you can pack into it what you will need for the next part of the journey.

He went on to use the Apostle Paul as an example of someone who needed to unlearn in order to learn anew. Going from a Pharisee who prayed, "God, thank you that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman"... to being able to say, "...there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female..."

I didn't really blog as much about this book as I intended to. I also didn't spend as much time with it as I wanted. But now that I've read it I hope to revisit it from time to time. Some very worthwhile stuff there.

Peace out; and in.