Knowledge Means Unlearning

In her poweful book, The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood talks about a future world and the reeducation of women—forcing them to become stupider, depriving them of the right to read, study, work and learn.

That’s a frightening prospect because education is power. There’s nothing like learning. There’s also unlearning. That is, unlearning old behavior that no longer works for us.

Here’s an example: one of my neighbors—I’ll call her Fiona—always used to panic because her son forgot his glasses every day before school. She’d then “have to” (her words) hop into the car and drive his glasses to school.

“I can’t not bring him in glasses,” Fiona moaned, very depressed and helpless. “What would he do?”

She kept doing this until it became obvious to her that if she kept rescuing her son, enabling him when he forgot his glasses, he’d never learn how to be responsible for himself. What she thought was being a good mother—going out of her way to help her kid—was working against him.

She had to unlearn her behavior. She had to sit with the discomfort that comes with unlearning an old habit and trying something new.

So much of what we do is automatic pilot. When we become aware that what we’re doing might not be in the best interest of others and ourselves we have to stop and unlearn.

Sometimes other people will be angry with our new way of being. But we can’t let the fear of other people’s disapproval stop us from thinking and living authentically.

What might you need to unlearn today?

About dianabletter

Diana Bletter is the author of several books, including The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (with photographs by Lori Grinker), shortlisted for a National Jewish Book Award. Her novel, A Remarkable Kindness, (HarperCollins) was published in 2015. She is the First Prize Winner of Moment Magazine's 2019 Fiction Contest. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, tabletmag, Glamour, The Forward, The North American Review, Times of Israel, and is a reporter for Israel21C, and many other publications. She is author of Big Up Yourself: It's About Time You Like Being You and The Mom Who Took off On Her Motorcycle, a memoir of her 10,000-mile motorcycle trip to Alaska and back to New York. She lives in a small beach village in Western Galilee, Israel, with her husband and family. She is a member of the local hevra kadisha, the burial circle, and a Muslim-Jewish-Christian-Druze women's group in the nearby town of Akko. And, she likes snowboarding and climbing trees.
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4 Responses to Knowledge Means Unlearning

  1. Another excellent post, Diana.
    Actually, as a former teacher, I remember the struggles dealing with “helicopter” mothers who hovered around their children, rushing to school with forgotten projects or essays, etc. And this was at the high school level!
    Your neighbor and her son both had to unlearn habits, expectations and behaviors, and unlearning actually takes much more strength and concentration than the basic process of learning.

    • dianabletter says:

      Yes, there are lots of helicopter mommas out there! It’s important to let kids (and everyone else) learn to fail so they can pick up and start again.
      Thanks, Marilyn!

  2. Sharon says:

    This was a well timed post for me. Yesterday I remembered it and it inspired me not to change my morning schedule and plans (once again for one reason or another for my daughter). This time she wanted me to suddenly make time to drive her to school because she fell back asleep after she was woken up and then couldn’t get ready in time to catch her pre arranged morning ride. She said she would ‘just take a cab’ which I told her she would have to pay for herself. Hopefully, with my unlearning behavior, better behavior will be instilled in her.

    • dianabletter says:

      Yay! I bet that took a lot of courage to say no…and the people around us will go kicking and screaming. But it’s a liberating feeling, isn’t it, to honor our own needs first. Good for you.

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