Unlearning | #MyFridayStory No. 154

Unlearning | #MyFridayStory No. 154

As a marketer, I’m interested in why people make decisions.

Neuroscience is rapidly advancing our understanding of how our brain functions. Combining the fields of neuroscience with technology, medicine, and bio-science, has brought new insights into how our mind is wired.

Here’s a great experiment to illustrate how learning something almost unconsciously can become gospel in our minds.

We have all heard the saying: It’s as easy as riding a bicycle.

The algorithm associated with riding a bicycle is highly complicated. There is a downward force on the pedals, leaning your body, turning the handlebars, even the gyroscopic turning of the wheels, all these forces must come into sync to enable you to ride the bicycle.

Destin Sandlin, a young scientist and host of the show, Smarter Every Day, was given a bicycle with a re-engineered steering. When the handlebars are turned left, the front wheel goes right, and vice-versa. At first, he thought it would be easy to ride. But he soon discovered that he couldn’t do it. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t peddle once.

He has taken the bicycle to audiences around the world, not a single person can ride it.

As an experiment, he set out to learn how to ride the “backwards bicycle.” After 8 months of trying and falling off one day, he could sense his brain figuring it out. Within the next few attempts, he was riding the bicycle.

He was curious how long it would take a young child to re-learn to ride the “backwards bicycle.” Sandlin made a backwards bicycle for his 6-year-old Son. Within 2 weeks he was able to ride it. Our minds are more “elastic” and can more easily learn – and unlearn – the younger we are.

Here, in a recent interview, Rudi Swanepoel and Ivor Swartz discuss the prickly issue of prejudice.

We all develop unconditional biases of some kind in our upbringing. As the example of the “backwards bicycle” so clearly demonstrates, learning at a young age is easy; unlearning is a lot harder. As a white boy that grew up in the 60s and 70s in South Africa, my unconscious biases included thinking women should be subservient to men. I also believed people of colour are less relevant than white folk.

I too am accustomed to being validated because I’m white. I use generalisations of “us” and “them” without realising how damaging and hurtful it is.

The exclusion of “others” is limiting to both parties.

To unlearn a bias may seem to be as hard as unlearning to ride a bicycle.

And you would be right.

Yet, overcoming prejudice is as simple as Ivor so poignantly puts it:

Walk across the room.

There is a lot of noise around racism and prejudice. It makes confronting these topics something we tip-toe around. We need to create a safe environment to address the issues through dialogue. The more woke and informed we are, the more common-sense will prevail. Through showing empathy and love for one another, and being prepared to hear about each other’s pain, not to defend my position, but to feel yours, we can unlearn our prejudices.

Have an awesome weekend and please be generous! 😄

As always, thanks for reading 🙏

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