Unlearning is often a more daunting process than learning because of the self-deprecation it entails. Nevertheless, like learning, unlearning too needs to be a continuous and life-long process. Sometimes, though, it can take a toll as one sheds their old self, along with their old beliefs and are reborn as a new person trying to make sense of the world around them.
Coming to terms with one’s new realities can be truly arduous when the changes are drastic, and one might feel alienated and isolated in previously warm and friendly surroundings. The changes would include factors as fundamental as friend circles, book/film choices, social media accounts you follow, conversation topics etc. Unarguably, all of this comes from a place of deep-rooted privilege, where being political is a choice and political correctness can be removed and re-worn as and when required.
Recently, during a conversation with a close friend, who had made his aversion to my “wokeness” and “activistic outlook” known a while ago, things went south when I started questioning what he called “the political validity of his personal actions”.
It developed into a full-fledged fight at the end of which he confessed how difficult it had become for him to talk to me, even as I continued to dodge his frequent jibes of my being a “snowflake”. Analysing some other discussions I had had with other friends, in retrospect I realised how it was impossible for us to be on the same page on most topics any more. Casual, uninformed remarks on politics, arising out of consuming propagandistic material created by biased media platforms now irked me beyond measure.
I realised how I was increasingly excusing myself from such discussions on group chats because the political incorrectness was just too hard to ignore. I did not want to come off as the tone-police, neither could I stand the incorrectness. It felt easier to walk away. I muted such stories on Instagram to prevent myself from picking unnecessary fights with old friends – another choice that arises from privilege because they questioned merely my beliefs, and not my very existence.
But it was clear we all had different learning-unlearning curves. The assumption, of course, was that they were on that path.
On one hand, I found myself more and more at odds with my old crowd. On the other, I had yet to find my place. Transition periods are difficult – the grounds are slippery and every new lesson has me bogged down. Still, it’s far easier to learn such things from reading and observing rather than from actual life experiences.
All the same, it was getting harder and harder to keep the political out of the personal almost as much as it was to keep the personal out of the political.
Where do I draw the line? Should there be a line?
Some of my old friends have been supportive of my transformation and said they understood my interest in ‘wokeness’. But it stopped being just an ‘interest’ long ago, it became my very self and I did not just want them to “accept” that I was different, I wanted them to change the way I had for us to be friends again. I wanted them to understand making politically correct decisions was the least one could do considering we all enjoy the benefits of a fundamentally exploitative system.
I wanted them to know being neutral towards politics was as political as it can get and that they were contradicting themselves. I wanted them to understand they were still contributing to the exploitation even without “imposing their beliefs” on other people. I wanted them to realise the cost of their ignorance and the choices they were making. I wanted them to know that neutrality was a farce in a politically-conditioned world and that their ignorance was basically submissiveness to the status quo.
What some of my friends saw as my “obsessive need” to be politically correct during all conversations was costing me old friendships. But unlearning came with a pressing need to participate in discussions and debates, mostly with the self, but also with others. It was pointless to shield personal relations from the consequences.
Silence is overrated. Unlearning was scary because it was necessary. Unlearning meant isolation, it meant change.
One of my new friends who usually shares my views on many issues, suggested that I had perhaps shut myself in an echo chamber and was finding it really hard to get out of the comfort zone it had become. Maybe that’s what it is. Coming out of the echo chamber might turn out to be yet another unlearning experience.
Anjana Kesav finds solace in words and truth and aspires to be a fearless journalist one day.