Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Two Biggest Obstacles to Learning

This week, I had several different opportunities to ask myself,"what have I learned from this moment?" 

I don't need to get into the specifics of any one of these to share their common conclusion. Which is that there are two big obstacles to learning new things, and those two obstacles--at least for me--are assumptions and defensiveness.

Assumptions are defined as "a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof." 

When our assumptions are challenged, it can feel frightening and destabilizing. We all need certainty and a set of common operating principles to function. We need a narrative arc for our lives and a vision of ourselves that is grounding, and in turn the world around us has to fit within that structure.

The problem is that the case for ourselves and our world is often quite binary and inherently subjective. And when the binary nature of that case or its objectivity is challenged--when our assumptions are challenged--it feels emotionally overwhelming, and we become defensive.

And when we're defensive, we can't learn. 

We're too busy reacting to our upended assumptions by raising a defense for our life's case, whatever that case may be. We have visions of ourselves and of other people and their motivations that chart our course through life, and it's not easy to examine those paths too closely, lest we discover they are more subjective and less stable than maybe we thought.

But when we do, we can learn a lot. The truth is that allowing my assumptions to be challenged while letting go of needing to defend them is the only way I've ever actually learned anything. 

I often fail at overcoming these two obstacles, but when I do, it's always worth it.

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