Learn, unlearn, relearn

“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

I saw this quote the other day, and I thought, “Boy, does this apply to my work or what?!” All interpersonal work is about learning, unlearning and relearning.

We learn about ourselves and how the cultures we belong to have influenced our worldviews.

Then, we learn about and experience other cultures. When we run into behavior that is different from our own, we need to figure out what that behavior represents. Is it a completely different value, or a different interpretation of a similar value? Depending on the answer, we may need to unlearn our interpretation of the behavior and relearn a new interpretation.

For example, I think people generally value “respect.” But the ways in which respect is shown may be very different.

If someone behaves in a way I’m not familiar with, I have to make a decision:

1) "They’re disrespecting me"; or

2) "They might be respecting me, but in a way that I don’t yet understand."

If it’s the latter, then I have some unlearning and relearning to do about my ideas of “respect.”

When we are rigid and not willing to unlearn and relearn, we always land on choice 1. We become dogmatic in our thinking, and we are not flexible enough to understand that the way we see the world is not the only way to see the world. From this perspective, it’s easy to view the world in terms of duality and absolutes – “If A is right, then B must be wrong.” Obviously, this can cause issues. Either we’re right, or we’re wrong, and who likes to be wrong?

  • In order to unlearn and relearn, we need to make room for both/and thinking.
  • Both/and thinking is more expansive. It opens up our minds to other perspectives and new ways of thinking.
  • It’s not judmental nor limiting.

We all know there are many ways to show respect. Both/and thinking acknowledges that "Both my way of showing respect is right, and so is yours." It gives us the opportunity to learn new ways of being.

Life is not black and white. There is a lot of grey. When we are willing to unlearn and relearn, when we can hold space for both/and thinking, then we can not only navigate the grey but also learn to see all the beautiful colors in between.


© 2017, Susan McCuistion

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