How Does One Unlearn Anything?

Responding to the need for deeper tools to support our intergenerational teams, BK Foundation began hosting “Unlearning For Intergenerational Collaboration” workshops last March. Former Design Team member Shirley Huey shares her experience at the July 25, 2016 workshop.


Group photo of the Unlearning participants.

Twelve of us gathered on a recent late July evening to break bread together, to create community, and to share space. What brought us together: BKF’s “Unlearning Workshop for Intergenerational Collaboration.”

What, you might ask, is “unlearning”? How does one unlearn anything? The word suggests that it is possible to undo what one has learned. It evokes an image of an unfolding of layers—peeling back an onion perhaps—to get to the heart of things. But is it possible to ever unlearn anything? And indeed, hasn’t it always been avowed that a person’s learning is the one thing that “they” (the oppressors, the aggressors, those that would take away your rights and possessions) can’t take away from you? Given that context, what the heck does unlearning mean, and why would we want that? These are the questions that flew through my mind when I responded “yes” to BKF’s invitation.

What I came away with:

  • That “unlearning” for intergenerational collaboration involves opening up to a place of deep listening, genuine curiosity, and playfulness;
  • That this process requires commitment to stretching beyond comfort zones to new places of vulnerability and authenticity;
  • That “unlearning” is as much about rejecting simplistic binary framings of the world and its problems (e.g., good vs. evil, community vs. government, love vs. anger) as it is about embracing the complexity of discomfort where those dualities, and everything in between, co-exist; and
  • That “unlearning” –and staying in the our stretch zone – starts with ourselves and how we show up in respect and love for the diverse people we meet and interact with every day.

For me, this reinforced the importance of something that I am consciously incorporating into my work these days: naming those moments in group meetings when the dynamics of power and privilege emerge and, to paraphrase bell hooks’ language, to use my privilege as facilitator “in ways that empower those who lack it.” We cannot address structural and systemic inequities without first naming them when they arise in our everyday lives, however uncomfortable it may be to do so.  


“Unlearning” for intergenerational collaboration involves opening up to a place of deep listening, genuine curiosity, and playfulness.

Thanks to BKF for bringing together such wonderful ideas and people into my life. I am excited to continue learning and unlearning with you all.

Shirley Huey, J.D., is a writer and principal at Ceanothus Consulting. Shirley specializes in facilitating transformative multi-stakeholder dialogues and planning processes within and between organizations and communities. She can be reached at  


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