Stubbornness having or showing dogged determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, especially in spite of good reasons to do so. Not a great attribute to have is it? It’s no wonder calling someone stubborn when they are being stubborn only makes them more stubborn! And yet even though I know this, sometimes I can’t help myself. Is that me being stubborn?
Although not the main focus of this month’s piece, I wanted to highlight the part that having a closed mind plays in what we learn – or don’t learn. A lot of us are fortunate enough to have received some sort of formal education: some stop after school, and some carry on to further education and then graduate from higher education. Usually, the main drivers for educating ourselves or letting ourselves be educated, is so that we are deemed good enough and skilled enough to get picked for the job that we want.
Generally then, we can feel like we’ve made it once we have the job that we want. And we switch from wanting to learn, to thinking we’ve learned everything we need to. This learning trap doesn’t just happen with education, it can happen with anything we apply ourselves to – relationships, jobs, our faith, even hobbies.
I love playing football, but sadly have had to accept that I’m not as good as I used to be. My mind is just as sharp, but my body takes an extra second or two to catch up with what my mind wants it to do. However, I can still compete (in my very humble opinion) with those who are younger, more physically fit and skilful than me. The reason for this is that I have tried to evolve my game to match my physical ability – I’ve learnt how to stay effective playing a different style and in different positions. Contrast this to the energetic and very skilful twenty-something year olds who have bags of ability and potential, but don’t know how to read the game. They don’t evaluate their own game because they think they’re good enough and they don’t listen to feedback. They can be frustrating to play with!
Likewise if we live with, work with, work under or work for someone who is resistant to learning, it makes our lives that much tougher. But enough about others. What about you? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll accept that no two things are the same, whether that be the job you’re in, the partner you’re with, the church you serve etc. There are always new things to discover.
Whenever we try to learn something new this new thing is measured against what we already know. If we place more weight on what we already know, on our past experience, then it will be harder to learn the new because we stick to the familiar and refuse to explore the uncertain.
Once we lay down our ‘know it all’ attitudes, we then need to consciously lay down our past experiences and what we think we know, in order to more readily receive new information. In effect this means unlearning to learn.
If you’ve just started a new job, be eager to learn with an open mind. Remind yourself that it’s a new environment, new culture, with different ways of working, different teams and different expectations. Leave your preconceptions and assumptions at the door on your way in. The same goes for a new church. Be slow to judge, and refrain from trying to make sense of the new by pigeonholing it into what you find familiar.
I’ll finish with an illustration. Imagine an empty cup. Stubbornness fills the cup to the brim with your opinions and beliefs, leaving no room for anything else to enter. Unlearning is then allowing yourself to empty the cup. You consciously decide to hold lightly your preconceptions, and assumptions about how things are.
Learning is then filling up the cup again with new things drawn from what you’re experiencing and receiving in the present, not from what you have already accumulated in your head. Then repeat.
An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge – Proverbs 18:15