Unlearning is as important as learning in our life, and often unlearning is harder than learning because unlearning requires the wisdom to recognize the unsuitability of the past learning, the will for the change, and the diligence to apply the change. A lot of time I just feel that I am too lazy to make the change even if I know the change is necessary. For example, I know that I’m consuming too may packets of sweetener every day, but I am just too inept to change this habit.
However there are several things I have successfully unlearned in my life and here I want to share them.
a. English Phrases
A lot of English phrases we learned in schools on the Asian side of the Pacific are not used at all in America or are used to refer to different items. For example, quilt, trousers, petrol, pardon me, not at all. The list is very long and I think I should do a new word post about it. The unlearning is absolutely necessary and I have been quite committed to this change. Still, even with my daily vigilance, there are still so many slang, hints, connotations, or other subtleties that I don’t understand.
b. Say Something
I talked about this in the previous posts. I was brought up not to say anything. At home or at school, speaking up is not encouraged and listening is mandatory. The social rule is that one should only speak when it is absolutely necessary. However life in New Jersey has shown me that the exact opposite is happening in the English speaking world–silence is considered impolite in many occasions. At first this posed a very big problem since I didn’t know what to say. When I knew I had to say something but had nothing to say, I felt terrible. However I’ve since passed that stage and been able to compile some “harmless filler phrases” to fill the gap when I am called upon to say something.
d. Learning Languages
I had been learning English in a wrong way, especially when I was at school. The word memory and grammar exercises were awful, which practically extract all the fun out of the language learning. Word memory is robotic and mechanical–boring. Grammar exercises are equally unappetizing. Not only that, the exercises actually make one feel that the grammar rules are ridiculous and people who adopt such rules are probably drunk or disoriented. The harder one works on this kind of learning, the worse one feels about the language.
Now I am taking up new languages, and I refuse to do grammar exercises or memorize words. I watch videos and read easy articles to get my dose of vocabulary. There’s no deliberate effort at memorizing. I want to see the result next July. By then it would be exactly one year. I want to see how much I’ve learned without the traditional methods.
e. Being Social
I grew up in a dysfunctional family, where my parents fought all the time. Sometimes I thought that they really enjoyed their fighting, and their hatred for each other was a strong emotional bond to keep their marriage going. And many other unsuitable couples would have retreated to a corner and reduced their interactions with each other, but they were not like that. My father would try to get all the opportunities at his workplace to go on business trips–he eventually found himself a position as a training expert to travel to different coal mines to give training lectures. However when he came back from his trip, he would not hesitate to jump into a new fight with my mother.
And no doubt I’ve had to unlearn everything I experienced at home in order to be normal in the outside world. I learned to compliment others appropriately while not being considered ingratiating. I had not known what compliment was since I never experienced it at home, but my school, my teachers, and my friends loved me–they still love me. The subjects we were learning were invariably boring and many school rules were ridiculous, but still I love my school and everything connected with the school. I think the biggest functionality of my school was not its educational power, but rather it provided people like me, who were from dysfunctional homes, a place to feel normal and connected and socialized.
I learned to reciprocate whenever I received something or whenever I heard some revelation of hidden emotions. I learned to distinguish between when my friends were whining and when my friends truly needed help. I learned to talk with my teachers, which was hard for me to do since they were kind of authority figures, almost as my parents in a new disguise.
There are a lot to unlearn and in some ways I am still unlearning so many years afterwards.