Author: Sandro

01.07.2019 13:49

How to Unlearn What We Have Learned?

How to Unlearn What We Have Learned?

Master Yoda

Years ago, when I was a child (therefore much more curious and much less self-confident), I used to love this old movie, constantly aired on TV. The movie was called “The Empire Strikes Back”.

I especially liked this one cute character, a little green guy named Yoda who was teaching young Luke Skywalker how to move rocks, how to become a Jedi, and other cool stuff. But at one point during this teaching he said a very strange sentence: “You must unlearn what you have learned”.

To be honest, I didn’t understand what he meant, it just sounded cool and weird. I was constantly repeating this phrase, confusing my parents who kept telling  me that I was too young to be interested in Zen Buddhism. As time went on, I slowly forgot about it. But not my brain. As I stepped into adulthood, became socially active and started enjoying debating and arguing with people about various things, this phrase started to possess me again. 

I realized that, outside of this movie, nobody had ever mentioned the importance of unlearning to me. Since my childhood everyone said that I should only learn. For example, the teachers who surrounded me tried to pass me the views and values they had grown up with. The ones that they and their circles believed were right. Among many other things, my teacher Mrs. Whateversson said that as soon as I have a wife, I should expect a dinner on the table when I return from work. Otherwise, according to her, our relationship could not be considered healthy.

Yes, I assure you, Mrs. Whateversson could say that. 

But let’s leave unhealthy relationships aside for a while. There were several questions that confused me as I got older: “Why do people get angry when you say something they don’t agree with?”, “Why do the ones who declare themselves liberals can call you a fascist only because you don’t share their opinion?”, “Why do politicians call their oponnents dumb”? (Read more on this here)  And, moreover, if all the above mentioned bothers me, why is it that I do pretty much the same?


"Implicit Bias"

When I started to research the problem, I found that there seems to be a scientific name to it - “implicit bias”. This term refers to “attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge”.

One of the most common examples researchers use to describe “implicit bias” are racial stereotypes. According to this concept we may declare ourselves open to people of various race, gender, sexuality, class or ideology, but still have stereotypes which we can’t identify consciously , but which influence our thinking and actions.  

You may wonder - “Why is the article that started off as a self-reflection of a millennial college major is now exploring some difficult psychological terms?” Okay. Let’s give it a simpler name - it’s just a number of thinking patterns that we seem to follow blindly.

Familiar, isn’t it?  We stop questioning alternatives and just go on living with what we know and what we believe is right. Unlike children, we stop trying to view perspectives from a neutral standpoint and stop being open to changes. And why should we do that? Because something that we know is true may not actually be true. As simple as that.

According to research by Ohio State University's Kirwin Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, there are several characteristics of implicit bias. 

Will Cox, a psychologist who studies prejudice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Sociologist Patricia Devine (who claims in her research that implicit bias is nothing more than a bad habit), developed an intervention program that fights against racial bias and thinking patterns. Their program presents racism as a morally neutral habit. And this is very important, because people might panic if they perceive their prejudice as a moral failure.

Of course, both of these scientists are not under the illusion  that their program will cure racism at once, but they do claim that it is among the few that are in fact getting positive results. 

But okay,  you may suggest that racism is quite a simple example, and some other biases are significantly harder to identify.  Moreover, where is the line between staying true to yourself, your ideals, your beliefs, and yet being able to accept different points of view?  Unfortunately, we are not Jedi masters yet and the answers to those questions still need to be found.

Only one thing is clear - unlearning is much, much harder than learning. At the same time, if done properly,  it may signify the true beginning of learning (however, keep in mind that later you may need to start unlearning again).

Let that sink in your brain…. 

We hope that this article did not teach you anything, and if it did, please, unlearn it as soon as possible.

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