By Sanah Thakur
A child attends school at the age of 3. He spends between five to eight hours a day, across 14 years, organising facts, theories and critical opinions about the way the world works and his potential role in it. He learns about numbers and words, chemicals and motion, the body and the brain. This knowledge is departmentalised and built on through further exposure, often biased in accepting new information. The child now believes that the pursuit of this external knowledge is what creates the foundation for his identity. He knows more about the world he lives in rather than the world that he is, and that is OKAY. A high school diploma, validates that it is okay. The child is now ready for the world. But he’s ready with knowledge he began automatically acquiring from the age of 3. His resume has been updated, but his knowledge is outdated. One day in his future, he is faced with a challenge he wasn’t ‘educated’ about. His identity was built on the knowledge he accumulated – as a boy, a doctor, religious, a hard worker – and it failed him. The conflict disturbs him, the illusionary identity shatters around him. A failure to unlearn and relearn leaves him arrogant in perception. He is now useless to the world he prepared for.
What are we learning?
Why are institutions still educating us about the wrong things? Why do we realise so late that self-care and awareness, a persistent curiosity for learning is as important as careers and families? Opinions are being voiced every day, with no acceptance of mistakes, no space for growth and more importantly, no desire to unlearn and relearn. Change is only fashionable when it’s a diet, new versions are developed only in technology and information increases in value, the further away it is from us. The internal world, beyond the facts of physical functions, still stays a stranger. The paradox, however, is that we spend our whole lives within it. Though there are no concrete answers, the path forward lies in redefining ‘compulsory education’.
While knowledge is accumulated about the outside world, a desire to inquire and learn about ones’ mind should be strengthened and maintained for years to come. Old associations and patterns of thinking should be replaced and new versions of ourselves should be celebrated. The journey of healing a critically conditioned mind, begins with an awareness of its world.
Learning as conditioning
The behaviourist approach in Psychology presents learning as a process of conditioning and imitation. Every piece of information is learnt through associations made and strengthened with repetition in experience over time. Perspectives about the world have been conditioned into our lives and it is on this conditioning that we manifest our behaviour. Can you even begin to picture the number of associations we have, stored within our brains? Some associations are positive and beneficial to our lives, manifesting into healthy behaviours. On the other hand, certain associations create negative patterns of thinking and behaviour. And in this world of hyper sharing, these negative patterns are excused with an arrogant reinstatement of ones’ ‘right to an independent opinion’. Living in a new world with an outdated mind creates conflict and distress within oneself, and therefore it manifests into vicious cycles of thinking that create disorders such as anxiety and depression.
One day, the educated child is told that he is weak. The conscious mind quickly highlights the schema (framework) for the word ‘weak’, listing associations made in the past. ‘Weak’ to him means; disappointment, incompetent, useless. His self-esteem has been affected and demotivation strikes in. Imagine however, that instead of giving up, he identifies this reaction and works on unlearning the negative associations with that word. He actively associates other words with his identity and understand that ‘weak’ also means ‘not as strong’, ‘lower in value only in comparison’, sensitive and providing space to reach ‘stronger’. He now uses this as motivation to strengthen this new association.
Acclaimed philosopher, J Krishnamurti said that apart from mainstream violence, it is also violence when we torture ourselves to fit into a particular pattern established by society, condemning ourselves to conform to a pattern. Conflict starts when there is an accumulation of knowledge, as a girl or boy, as a Christian or Muslim, as rich or as poor – as opposed to learning. Learning requires discipline, in the sense of being committed to awareness of what is going on within yourself. Breaking the protective layers of centuries of conditioning, that has designed a blue print for our every action. An individual who claims to be an expert is arrogant in unlearning and relearning as the world changes. But a lifelong student is always humble to the limits of his/her own learning and working to build on it. It’s time we redefine education, balancing a curiosity of the internal and external world equally, healing minds, one word at a time.
* The author can be contacted on Instagram @sincerelysanah
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