Spending Effort Unlearning

By | November 28, 2017

[November 28, 2017]  The Greek philosopher Antisthenes once said: “The most useful piece of learning … is to unlearn what is untrue.”  As a new trend, many educators have jumped on the unlearning bandwagon and also began simultaneously misleading us regarding what it is and the merits on which it is based.

“Unlearning is the process of letting go of old ideas, information, and ways of doing things that no longer serve us in the way they used to.” – Andrew John Harrison, CEO and Co-founder of the Goldzone Group

I think the Goldzone Group CEO Harrison got the concept about right in his quote.  Unlearning is simply letting go of old ideas that are no longer useful.  So, it is not really about forgetting something or in some way erasing it from our minds, but finding new ideas that work.  That, however, is a difficult task requiring considerable effort and thought.

In the advanced academics, at least in most disciplines, the best are spending a great deal of intellectual effort rejecting emotional arguments that cannot provide sound philosophical principles.  This often goes counter to what mainstream thinking in our culture encourages.

For example, some of our greatest thinkers reject “-isms;” not because they have no effect but because the ideas behind them are largely based upon emotion and upon concepts that are not just slippery in definition but unclear, have no firm meaning, and cannot be measured accurately.  The concepts of racism, sexism, etc. – while it exists and is a problem – are conceptually not useful if we are to do something constructive to prevent it.

A process that military Flag officers go through is something that Harrison would describe as unlearning.  We had to learn how and why certain military thinking about war is unproductive and not useful in the current war on terror.  We spent a lot of time with other senior military and civilian “thinkers” that talked to us about new ways to accomplish the U.S. military mission to protect the homeland against all enemies.

Now that my retirement has opened new doors for me, I find that I am a better mentor, teacher, and coach when I can look at a problem from a different angle.  Providing useful, adaptable information is helpful to those who need someone to bounce ideas off of.  I wish I’d done a better job at it when I was still in military service.

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