Learning? I Don’t Know!

How many times have you said, felt, or heard someone say..

“I just can’t study anymore.. Good riddance.. Life beckons now!”

“Errr.. Whatever that was, I did not understand. And don’t bother.. I don’t think I can understand all that.”

“I am too old to study anymore.”

“I am too old to learn how to use all those fancy gadgets.”

“I am just too old to learn all that new stuff.. Please let me be, would you?”

Fortunately, I don’t hear myself say it – within my mind or aloud – but that is just because I am this pompous, elitist, “I’m a researcher, baby. Learning stuff is what my brain is trained to do.. Give me more!” character freak. Being that also means that I don’t expect the same levels of over-enthusiastic manic zeal to learn from the average normal person. But, God knows, I have heard all that far too often than what I presume should have been my fair share.

And the scariest part? Most of it uttered  by people my age, give or take 5 years.

For most people with this mindset – which happens to be most people, – saying “I don’t know” comes easy when “shouldn’t come across as stupid” isn’t on their minds.

But, rather than being a stepping stone towards “Hey, I’d like to know – at least a bit!”, this “I don’t know” is a big boulder blocking their way & making them turn around  with a “I am pathologically incapable of moving any further.. Sorry!” etched bold & big across their foreheads.

I am not talking about learning rocket science, or even ‘complex’ Linux commands. A severely dumbed down explanation of a simple illness elicits a reaction as though it was straight from a latin medico text. Talk about how caste plays out in daily life & how it rears its ugly head in the power dynamics of caste hierarchy – people act as if they are blind, and just can not see what is happening around them. But of course, they’d cry themselves hoarse about how the caste-based reservation system is looting their “upper-caste” selves of their rights. Same with any other social issue – education, patriarchy, equality, pick what you may.  People learn the ins & outs of Facebook and all the apps to live life 24×7 on FB, but Facebook’s privacy settings fly straight over their heads. Pick just about anything – language, history, science, psychology, economics, civic responsibility. People balk at even trying to comprehend a minimum of two basic facts or concepts, put in the most “layman” of ways.

The basic problem seems to be : if learning something involves reading four lines of text, or listening to three minutes of speech, or trying to do something for ten minutes, or thinking about something for fifteen minutes… then ignorance is bliss.

 To complicate the problem, we have had our brains trained to “learn” a certain way all through childhood, up till college. “Learning” then, was equated to “grasping” some facts and techniques, retaining them till the next examination, and wiping our brain slates clean for the next set of lessons.

Enter adulthood, the brain still reacts the same way..

“Do I have to learn this? Will I be tested on it?”

“If not, then there is no incentive to learn. Bye!”

“If yes, I don’t want to fail in yet another test. I’d rather not go through with this. Goodbye!”

“You say, learning this would make me ‘cooler’? Well.. may be I will try to learn superficially, and just the stuff that is ‘cool’.”

Is that dumb? Is that sad? I can’t seem to decide.

May be, it is just a misconception about what is meant by ‘Learning’?

To me, ‘Learning’ isn’t knowing everything about something, or mastering a skill. It isn’t even knowing the basics of something and retaining it forever.

To me, ‘Learning’ is  processing new information, seeing new things, seeing old things with new eyes, and leaving my mind just a wee bit more opened up. Forgetting what was learnt isn’t an issue – once learnt, re-learning comes easier every time. Pace isn’t an issue either – each person has a unique one.

To me, ‘Learning’ is simply possessing the self-confidence to tackle the “new” when the need arises – either all by myself, or knowing where to seek help.

To me, ‘Learning’ is feeding the curiosity demon, and keeping it alive. In spite of it being of “no use”.

To me, ‘Learning’ – by reading/listening, by doing, from experience – is the very essence of human life.

Saying “I don’t know” to ‘Learning’? That too quoting ‘age’?

Imagine living life till 80-90 years of age, with almost the same level of knowledge & insight gained at 25. [shudders]

Now.. how much ever my brain tells me that most people do that because of years of conditioning by the “education” system..

I can’t help being rude & saying (within my head) – “Please go, get a life!”. And perhaps, write silly posts on morons.

I just don’t get it!


26 thoughts on “Learning? I Don’t Know!

  1. That is why I felt really happy when my 65 years old mum-in-law tried to understand how a laptop works.
    How can people not be excited about leading new things?

  2. So glad to see this post! It mirrors a bit on what I tend to think when people don’t care about knowing. I say knowing instead of ‘learning’ because perhaps, most are not suited to a manic researching life and I tend to associate learning to an academic context. But knowing things is always cool. 8)
    Ignorance is what gets me annoyed though.

  3. Facebook privacy settings and text on technological innovations goes above my head, too. That said, I love delving deep into interesting news items, articles on relationships, historical fiction and contemporary stories, travel blogs and the like. I think the problem you have cited here has more to do with what people ‘want’ and ‘do not want’ to learn. Talk to me about life in a different country for an hour and I will listen intently. Talk to me about technology and I will start yawning in 5 minutes. Having said that, I do realise the importance of equipping yourself with at least basic knowledge about certain things you encounter in the course of your life, keeping your mind open to learning new things, and understanding where to seek help, should you need it.

    • Let us leave out technology given my inherent bias as a computer scientist. Yes, people do have different interests – for instance, I am very reluctant to learn anything about finances, economics (in spite of knowing fully well that I can handle anything ‘numbers-y’). And people have different aptitudes & limitations to – I would run miles if anybody asks me to learn organic chemistry again. And I fail miserably at learning anything that needs memorizing stuff – I am this irony of a computer engineer who doesn’t remember programming language syntax if I don’t use it for a month.

      That apart, I know that if the need arises, I would be able to learn the basics of just about anything. Even things that are far from one’s aptitude & interest can be broken down & diluted to its essence. And, that essence is all that is needed to be able to seek & use help effectively.

      I find all these people my age going around round-eyed saying “Oh.. I just wouldn’t be able to learn that stuff”, and I find it unsettling. A basic lack of confidence when it comes to learning, perhaps?

      Plus, most of the time, the people who have this attitude is young women who are married, or about to get married, waiting to get married. Wonder if that means anything!

      • I think knowing the basics about how economists think is required these days for understanding the economy -and- for understanding politics, which is a pretty big slice of the world. Worth it.

      • I’ve got a few ideas, but I worry I’ll underestimate you. You’re a pretty smart lady. (more explicitly, you’re among the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting), so just because you say you don’t know a lot about something, I don’t think it’s safe to assume you’re truly ignorant of the basics.

        Freakonomics is fun, though sligthly repetitive. Don’t swallow all the claims in there without chewing though. (not that you would anyway)

      • I’m that smart, eh? That sounds too scary! 😉

        Yep. Freakonomics was fun, but repetitive. Had read a couple of other ‘serious’ books on economics too – just did not feel like look out for more. Do let me know of any more ideas you might have.

      • You’re plenty smart. Scary is just about the last adjective I’d choose. There’s some guys who feel threathened by smart women I suppose, but I don’t think you want anything to do with those anyway. I think you’re splendid, though I struggle sometimes to express just how splendid, without coming of as intolerably flirty.

        Also, you’ve read a lot. Thus it’s never safe to assume you’re clueless. You just demonstrated that — I could’ve gone and just recommended Freakonomics, but as it turns out you’re familiar with it already.

        A Random walk down Wall Street ? Funny in the sense that it exposes the hilarious fact that according to the best of our science, the entire stock-analyst/fund-manager industry is exactly as useful as astrology. Practically useful if you’re investing, allthough the lesson from it can be summarized in a single sentence.

        I’ve got a fair understanding of finance, but little of it is from any concrete book. I had some introductory university-level stuff, but our textbooks wheren’t anything I’d recommend. Also my wife majored in economy so I suppose I could recommend a thousand conversations with her, large and small, but she also has not written a book.

        Non-finance, but somehow connected in my head. Predictably Irrational and The Cluetrain Manifesto.

  4. Pingback: Weekend Reads for Indian bloggers - Spicy Saturday Picks

  5. Somewhat naive opinion, this. If you have the means to appoint a driver, why would you want to drive yourselves? The point is, are they able to get what they want without learning?? Chances are good that they do. Think about it.

    Destination Infinity

    • There is always a choice – between learning and not learning something. As in the case of your driving vs driver example. That is well appreciated.
      There are issues of aptitude, ability and phobias too – for instance, I have a phobia towards needles and might never even try to learn to administer an injection. So, that too, is understood.
      Then there is the mental block towards even considering learning anything new after a certain age – typically, after college – unless one’s job demands it. That attitude is what I find difficult to understand.

  6. I love challenges in life & getting to learn something new excites me to no bounds. Couldn’t agree more with you on the importance of being open to learning at every point in life irrespective of everything else in life 🙂
    P.S. – Congrats on being picked as the Blogadda Spicy Saturday Post 😀

  7. Nice post.

    My thoughts about this are…we live in a day and age where there is too much information and too little time that people have. Today’s buzzword is WIIFM – what’s in it for me? And even if we are able to figure out the benefits of learning something new, we really don’t care unless it is of some practical use in our daily lives.

    While I personally belong to the ‘learning for the sake of learning’ category of people, I kind of understand where the other school comes from. They are just too caught up with the vagaries of their daily lives that they simply don’t bother with ‘learning’ new things at all.


    • I agree that today’s world is hit hard by information overload. There is choice – whether to learn something or not to. Choice is what applies in the ‘what’s in it for me’ line of thought.
      What I don’t understand is a) the reluctance to consider learning even something that IS of practical use to a person b) the fear to learn, rather the fear of failing at learning. The latter, to me, screams a slightly low level of self-confidence, mostly induced by our academic system.

      And, welcome here! 🙂

  8. Great post, Conjecture girl! It’s a pity that most people choose not be versatile, especially in today’s time when we have the opportunity to do so much more. And the dialogues that people dish out are the same across all age groups – young and old. People have either become far too lazy to be inquisitive anymore or are too occupied with Big Boss, WhatsApp and Facebook…

  9. ‘I don’t know’ followed immediately by ‘I want to know’ is the key to learning! Unfortunately, most people don’t say ‘I don’t know’ because they don’t want to admit their ignorance. Instead, they say ‘I’m not interested’ and remain ignorant!

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