What does it mean to unlearn?
Unlearning is a concept of making deliberate attempts at forgetting or discarding certain knowledge that is taught, conditioned, or ingrained in our minds from a young age. It also means letting go of information or knowledge that later learning has credibly proven the previous knowledge to be false.
These are the rational definitions of what unlearning means. Our daily life, as human civilizations have forever recognized, is a culmination of learned behavior and attitudes that our ancestors have followed. Many types of learning such as conditional teachings of manners and behavior, habitual daily routines, body care, health routines, and general daily behavior are not something we learn in our capacity of consciousness. It is passed on to us through our parents, grandparents, guardians, and caretakers. Even catered to by growing up around our school teachers and close friends, and other cultural environments. You accept it as it is because these daily tasks and routines seem trivial and important. It is also done because human beings’ immediate tendencies are to conform to the norm. And because of course, you trust your family, friends, and confidants. They wish the best for you. Therefore, learning is almost intrinsic to us as humans.
However, what happens if a certain learned behavior, habit, or knowledge seems wrong, offensive, or infringes upon one’s own moral compass? As one grows older and is exposed to the world in their own capacity, they find out that a lot of their learnings are full of mistakes, have evolved into something different or are incorrect altogether.
Futurist Alvin Toffler once wrote, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
Habits are automatic and unconscious responses and actions of your brain. They are as ingrained as the longevity for which they are performed by a person. That is why a person who is always on schedule and likes meticulous patterns hates it when something does not go according to their plan. They not only like their habits but have developed them in such a way that helps them keep track of this rapidly fast-paced world. That is perhaps the reason why unlearning is more heard about today in the 21st century. The fast-paced world has created a lane of rat race for everybody to have an illusion of winning and/or having them feel like they have participated. Nothing is truly wrong as long as competition is healthy, but after a point, it is just toxic to a lot of people’s mental health and bearing of the self. Humans can only work so much. However, these days the competition is stringent, demanding, and full-blown, with no rewards that seem worth the grind and the hustle.
When we stick to a habit, we tend to settle for it. It becomes part of our comfort zone. And we become so privy to our comfort zones that we refrain from roaming out of it. This holds true for most of our learned behaviors, concepts, knowledge, and so on. Therefore, if and when our brain accepts that a learned behavior or habit must be changed or unlearned, the process is tedious and takes time. As a result, many people refuse to engage in it. The only chance left is to make a learned action, behavior, or pattern extinct before a new learning must take place.
Since it is established that learning is a difficult concept to gauge, unlearning is that much tougher to accept. As humans, admitting we have learned something that we gave so much time to as wrong takes a high amount of awareness and moral maturity. For someone to tell us that we have been doing something wrong all along seems arrogant to us and our learned pattern becomes defensively stronger. Therefore, remember that to unlearn is better than to learn. It means that you are constantly evolving and changing as a person and as a learner. Keep track on your daily patterns and try to constantly break them. Mature your outlook on learning and you will live a life full of certainty.