Have you ever seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? It’s an interesting story about a man who ages backwards. He is born As a withered, shriveled, old, decrepit man. As he ages his health slowly improves and his body becomes younger and younger.
It’s a very… well, curious story, based on a short story by F Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve always found the idea intriguing. How would your life be different if you aged in reverse? How would it impact your behavior if you knew your best health was yet to come?
I’ve often considered, as I’m now several years that other side of 40, that life is a process of learning, followed by a process of unlearning. Meaning that we spend a large part of our early years making logical leap, filling in gaps with assumptions and believing what we are told. As our knowledge becomes more well rounded and complete we begin to identify these gaps/errors/falsehoods.
In engineering terms you could say your thought processes were standing on a bridge that had been laid out with good intentions. But upon further inspection you find that the bridge has no supports under it and if the slightest bit of pressure is put on the bridge, also known as the idea, that idea will collapse and leave you at the bottom of the ditch. Philosophically speaking.
So the second part of your life tends to be a process of trying to walk backwards.
Similarly to trying to undo a tangle of rope, or in this modern age to be able to user wired headphones that have been wadded up in your pocket all day. You have to grab one end and trace back till you come to the first knot. Working out that knot gently and then moving on to the next. Retracing the steps of the cable through and around itself enabling it to regain it’s original form and utility.
The nice thing about the unlearning process is that you are facilitated by the tools you have picked up during your early journey. You have the ability to validate stories now. You can draw your own conclusions. You can trust your own instincts. When you are a child you trust what you are told because you don’t have any other information to go on. As an adult you now have the tools to vet your conclusions and research those base assumptions.
The process of unlearning isn’t always easy. It can be downright painful. And it isn’t always complete. You can’t rebuild the whole infrastructure in one day. So you must deconstruct and rebuild a bit at a time, to avoid a mental collapse.
Consider that our mind is like a large chalkboard. When you are born you start with a clean slate. Over time you fill up the board with all sorts of information. Now as an adult you can audit that information and establish where to use the eraser and where to update the equations.
To quote a great and powerful teacher “You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda
We owe a lot to our upbringing and the foundation provided to us by our parents and teachers. But the time is here to begin walking backward.
Perhaps we will learn to walk backwards on water.
Perhaps we will unlock the secrets of the universe.
Perhaps we will simply make peace with our brothers and sisters that don’t deserve our subconscious prejudice.
The knowledge you have learned, has boxed you in and narrowed your focus too far. You’re bigger and better than all that.
I feel the forest around me.
It protects me as I am wary of life.
I travel along the winding path,
an echo of my spirit guides me.
I see the future behind me.
To go on, I must turn back.
I must leave myself behind to
travel this new direction.
A path of my own without myself.
-Kevin Goodman (1992)