The Elements of Unlearning in Our Lives

Maria Glauser <mglauser@hotmail.com>

I really enjoy reading stories about peopleís life, especially when I know them. I find it irresistible. I feel very fortunate to know five of the people who wrote these unlearning stories. Volunteering for two months at Shikshantar, I spent a lot of time with Zaid, Isaac and Shilpa. I also met Yusef in December for a few days during the Learning Societies Conference. And Marianne I met two years ago through Pioneers of Change. I am amazed by the fact that they were, not completely unknown, but still strangers to me until I read their stories. And that is dangerous.

I experienced a very beautiful feeling while reading Zaidís story sometime in January. He was in the same room reading a book while I was reading about his life. Going through the text I could understand him so much, and still so little. It was like a flow of his feelings, ideas, worries going through my mind. And from time to time I had to look at him to make sure I was reading about the same person I knew before. And then a scary thought invaded me: what if I never got to read about his life? I wouldnít have known him, and many of the conversations we had later would never have happened.

We spend so much time with people around us, at work or at home thinking we know them. We even talk about them without knowing them at all, without knowing much about their experiences. We donít even know what makes them feel happy, alive or what makes them sad, we donít know what worries themÖ

But why did I need to read other peopleís writing to get closer to them? What has happened to us that we need to use indirect ways to meet each other? Did we lose the ability of listening to each other, of talking to each other? All this makes me worry a bit. But at the same time I let myself go into each of the stories and tried to understand what made these people I think I know, think and act the way they did.

The most meaningful thing to me about the stories is that they allowed me to see what "elements" people held tight to find themselves in their lives. And in each of them I found completely different meaningful learning sources in their lives, like new places, new ideas, reading, mistakes, contradictions, family, community, art, music, freedom, spontaneity, disaffections, disconnections, inspirationsÖ Thinking about the places, the people and the moments that take part in these elements, I saw that none of them needed an unnatural structure or artificial setting to develop. In fact, each meaningful element was inherent to their lives. But what made the difference is that the people identified their role.

The stories made me reflect about what elements I would consider as learning sources in my own story. The first that comes to my mind is my family, without any doubt. My family has offered me so many experiences, places, people, ideas, inspirations, so much freedom to think, to question, to express. It has also offered me huge mistakes to learn from, a lot of pain, but above all, a lot of simplicity and so much love. Sometimes I feel I have gotten so much love from my family that I canít help giving it away to the people around me. Loving is very easy to me.

I feel very good in realizing that I donít need any institution to learn from these elements. They are just there. We all probably have them so close to us that we canít see them. Perhaps we are so busy trying to fit into a place, unconsciously trying to be accepted by the others through our actions that we forget to look into ourselves. From my own experience I can say that reading this stories helped me a lot to reflect on my own story. I even felt a bit envious because my story hasnít been written until now. I feel now the curiousity, and even the need of writing mine, and only thinking about it I discovered that for my it is my family what I want to write about the most.

Unlearning is a very difficult term for me to use in my context. It confuses me to differentiate learning with unlearning. Because to me, unlearning is learning after all. Or maybe Ďunlearningí only takes place when we identify what we have learned and want to change? I wonder if learning, unlearning and resisting are meaningful to us only after we identify them in our lives...What do you think?