Learning Is Difficult Unlearning Is Impossible

Be persistent and finish what you have started. Due to my observation of this principle, I’ve completed books I should quit reading after the first page; I’ve finished programs that I have no use of; I’ve mastered skills I don’t really care about; I’ve kept relationship with abusive relatives for years and pretended that I enjoyed it. And I know I am not the worse case. A lot of people go beyond what I’ve done. So sometimes education really has a negative effect on our lives. Our persistence mainly comes from the fact that we are instilled, encouraged, prodded for years from kindergarten to college by dutiful and overworked teachers and parents to behave this way, but in reality persistence is not always commendable and is often overused. You would think that knowing what I know now, I can judge with more discerning eyes and start to practice in the opposite direction, but no–I am incapable of doing that. If learning is hard, unlearning is quite impossible. Unlearning is like giving up part of who you are and losing part of your own identity. I probably need to go to see a psychologist or practice certain religion to keep my sanity if I embark on a journey of unlearning.

Try to find the correct answer. Certain things do have correct answers and it is obvious that the only thing you need to do is to seek until you find it. I am not saying that this is easy to do, but at least you have directions. Here I am talking about things that don’t have correct answers but you think there’s one. So you seek and seek, pursue and pursue, until you are confused, defeated, and barely able to keep yourself from going mad. Growing up, we are trained to look for correct answers, to get appraised, to enjoy praise, to avoid scolding. It becomes a habit and a second nature for us that whenever something happens not to our liking or not according to our expectation, we think we need to find an answer and a correct one. I know a immunology researcher who told me that for years she and her lab colleagues tried to find the answers–the correct ones–to certain immunology problems, but they couldn’t. They threw away countless experimental results which were considered useless because they didn’t point to the correct answers the researchers hypothesized. Then one day an expert came to their lab and enlightened them to the fact that they should throw away their orthodox belief of correct answers and deal with the results they had in hand–stop discarding results but instead trying to interpret them in a non-dismissive way.

Talk less and do more. I shouldn’t listen to this one, but I did. It takes me years to realize that it is a fallacy to put “talk” and “do” in such an opposite position as if one is excluding the other, as if talking is the enemy of doing. These two have no such natural enmity. Also the problem with this principle is that people who advocate it are usually the ones who want other people to talk less and do more while they themselves talk more and do less. However I couldn’t see through the falsehood when I was young. I didn’t talk and often I didn’t even communicate. While doing this, I felt inexplicably virtuous as if I would earn a medal of silence, or find happiness in self censure and denial. When the medal and the expected happiness didn’t materialize, I started to wonder… So I started to unlearn what I had hold true for many years, but the process is slow since the style or method of talk is as important as the willingness to talk and communicate. I am still learning new things while unlearning the old ones perilously and ineffectively.

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