Never Going to Learn: Guest Blog by Elizabeth Brandon….

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The fact that I never learn comes in part from a belief that I can't learn. I won’t be able to understand, and I'm too good for everything to try. It's an arrogant belief.
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If there’s a positive side to this, it’s that I would never assume that I don’t need an expert opinion on a difficult topic. I would never for a moment assume that I could "get" whatever it is. I would never say something stupid like, "I’ve had enough of experts."

But the reality is pretty bleak. It means that I don’t even bother to engage with things. New bills that affect my healthcare, reports that explain the state of the world, forms containing information on the important nitty gritty of what affects my life: I’m happy just to rely on the editorials that pre-digest it all for me. I go through life with my eyes closed.

Behind the belief that I can’t learn is, I think, a nihilistic sense that I am probably wrong anyway, so why bother. Sometimes, even when I know something to be true, I let other people tell me I’m wrong because I think it is impossible that I might not be. It’s a way of avoiding conflict. I’d rather be trampled on than say what I know to be true. It isn’t worth causing a fight when I’m so unsure of myself and what I am saying.

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And anyway, when I concede that I must be wrong, I can’t be blamed. I try to slide through problems with as little damage as possible and accept as little agency as I can. To appear to have taken responsibility for everyone else’s clumsy mess-ups—but actually for everyone to know it wasn’t me who made the mistake—is the goal.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t my fault. I am always as innocent as a butterfly.

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Were I to take responsibility, I would be blamed and judged so harshly that my life would end. The voices, the voices!

The problem of course is that this means I can’t claim my work. If there were something wrong with it, it would be harder to worm out of the responsibility for the mistake. I don’t just say: "This is mine, right or wrong. This is what I did."

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Piecing all this together reveals such a desperation. I am desperate to keep things clean, to keep up appearances, to make sure it looks like that nothing is ever out of place. I can’t engage, I won’t engage, because I can’t entertain the possibility of being wrong.

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So I don’t learn anything. Nothing sinks in. It reminds me of the lines in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land: “You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images, where the sun beats…There is shadow under this red rock (Come in under the shadow of this red rock)”. I stay in the shadow of my red rock.
Rohini asked me, "Have you ever done anything right?" My immediate answer was no, but I was thinking later on that there was one thing: my master's dissertation last year.
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I was reflecting on that while, at work, I was handing over projects to my successor as I prepared to start a new job within my team. I realised that in the last nine months at work I've been, some days better than others, learning. How to read a contract, how to decipher meaning that isn't immediately apparent to me by going over a text more than once, how to read language that's dry and sometimes oddly worded.

I have learned these things in spite of myself. That is, I could only learn them when I wasn’t being myself. I didn't do my dissertation my way. I have done my job my way some days, and on those days I fail. Other days I don't. Now I'm getting to see that when I practice, I can and actually do learn.

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