It’s a strange thing, learning.
We gather new data, new facts, new understandings, and sometimes this cluster of acquisitions serve as novel tools in our cognitive utility belts—ready to be used when we need them, perhaps granting us heightened computational powers or the capacity to make things that were previously out of creative reach.
Sometimes, though, something we learn will tip us toward a completely unfamiliar way of thinking. We’ll gain not just more capacity or capability, but an entirely new perspective on ourselves, others, and/or the reality in which we exist.
And that can shake us up; it can be a positive pivot, but it can also be uncomfortable. It can even lead to denial.
Learning that you thought the world was one way but it’s actually another is not a single realization, but a whole collection—a downpour—of interconnected awakenings that will need to be both acknowledged and reckoned with.
Some people choose to put the genie back in the bottle when this happens; or they try to, at least. It’s not easy to pretend you don’t know what you now know, even if you’re a practiced suppressor of inner-turmoil.
Others get right on board, excited to have caught a glimpse of what’s behind the veil and to suddenly understand the world through the lens of higher mathematics, or political expediency, or historical narrative, or whichever other bit or bundle of comprehension they now possess.
Whether we accept or deny our new perspective, though, it’s possible we may feel a sense of guilt or shame or discomfort—not because of where we are now, but because of where we’ve been.
I feel this almost every time I learn something that fundamentally tweaks my understanding.
I feel like I’ve been such a fool, I’m embarrassed it took me so long to get to where I am, now, and I worry about all the things I think I know, today, that are incorrect or incomplete and which will thus cause me the same distress at some point later in my life (if I’m lucky enough to eventually learn what I need to learn, anyway).
I don’t think this is a problem with a solution.
We can recontextualize our response to a reflexive sense of discord, but eliminating that response completely probably isn’t in the cards.
My personal approach to this dilemma is to remind myself that the unease I feel about what I know and have known is just a natural part of the learning process.
I also try to remind myself, when I’m feeling especially foolish, that what I’m feeling is a growing pain, not a pointless ache.
I’m experiencing productive, expansionary soreness and strain, and even if I’m probably never going to love this sensation, I can learn to associate it with more pleasant psychological states: an appreciation of what I’ve gone through to learn what I now know, a sense of pride in the work required to achieve my new perspective, and exhilaration from the knowledge that I’ve crested a previously distant horizon and the next one awaits.