learning and unlearning


When a couple in marriage for 20 years still fight over the same kind of things they fought when they were young couples, it is because learning is not taking place. When an establishment (church, school, business, etc.) remain at the same level after many years, it is also because learning is not taking place. Learning and unlearning is an act or skill that should be mastered for visible growth to occur anywhere.

To learn is to acquire knowledge. Learning is as important to man as the eyes. Therefore he who does not learn is blind. It defines our growth. Individuals and organizations suffer stunted growth because they exist on old knowledge. What you learnt yesterday can impede your growth tomorrow if you cannot unlearn and relearn. Learning begins from the time we are born. We learn how to walk, speak and respond to situations in our environment. At a stage in the learning process, unlearning becomes equally important for learning to proceed. This means unlearning is often a part of the learning process. It sounds paradoxical but very true.

As a child, I had a ridiculous way of singing the nursery poem ‘Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.’ I don’t remember how I pronounced ‘gently down the stream’ and ‘life is but a dream’ as a child; but I know what I used to say did not make any sense. I was already a university graduate when I heard the poem sang correctly and realized how wrong I was as a child. I had to unlearn it and relearn it the right way.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” — Alvin Toffler.

Relearning is learning again. It is not so difficult. All it requires is inculcating the new knowledge in yourself to replace the former (inadequate) knowledge.

Learning determines the proportion of age to wisdom.

If you keep learning, your age will be directly proportional to your wisdom (that means you grow older and wiser). Similarly, at any point you stop learning, your age becomes inversely proportional to your wisdom (that means growing older and more stupid) – See Proverbs 12:15. Age is not the determinant of wisdom, learning is. It is a life-long process. No one has learnt it all because new ideas and experiences do not cease to come up every day and as they do, they may render some past knowledge obsolete.

Drop the Ego

A serious obstacle to learning as you grow old is ego. As a child, it is easy to gulp in just anything you are taught and grow with them. As these knowledge form their foundations in our hearts, they become our paradigms (the conceptual framework of our thinking patterns and views of reality). This occurs in every aspect of life – religion, marriage, education, etc. We often see our own paradigms as reality but it is not always true. As you keep your mind open, it helps make your paradigm mesh with reality. If on the other hand, you close your mind, believing you are already an expert in a field of knowledge, you run into problems with people in the real world.

Paul, the Apostle, was a typical example of learning, unlearning and relearning. He had advanced beyond his counterparts in Judaism. He had learned from one of the best teachers of the law then and he had so much confidence in his knowledge which led him to murder innocent people until he opened his mind to a better knowledge. He unlearned his previous knowledge (paradigm shift) and learned Christianity from the scratch. Today, we barely talk about the early Christians without mentioning his name because of the powerful impact he made after he relearned. Even after accepting Christ, he never stopped seeking to learn more (Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:4-14). He used words like “I want to know…”, “I keep pressing…”

Don’t just argue to win, argue to learn.

That you have always known it a particular way does not make it right. When you have differences with your spouse for instance, review the cause of the disagreement together. Your mistakes are often based on your paradigm. Be humble enough to accept this instead of justifying them. Unlearn the old thinking pattern causing the problem in the relationship and relearn a better approach to fix the problem. Insisting on your past knowledge as the only way is going to make the problem repeat itself over and over again.

Persons who cannot learn and unlearn do not have the capacity to lead effectively. Such persons do only one thing best- argue. At the end of the argument, they remains the same. To them, every argument must be won with their paradigm, hence no room for improvement. Their faulty thinking patterns form limiting walls around them that inhibit growth. The key to unlearning and relearning is submission of ego.

Say ‘Yes’ to learning (and unlearning) today and experience an improved relationship with people around you.

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