Unlearn Before You Learn - 5 Ways to Increase Your Self-Awareness about Community and the "Other"

By Megan Norton
September 29, 2021
 min read
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2021 continues to produce collective grief, change, and ambiguity. In an effort to draw our attention to what we can control and to provide hope for courageous leaders to step into roles for responding well, the following are five ways to practice intentional self-reflection to bring about more love and more understanding to ourselves first and also to our neighbors.


Look at your own identity in new and relevant ways. In what areas can you exercise your own power and privilege to be an advocate and change-agent for what you would like to see changed in your community? Perhaps it’s your age, ability, education, or employment that provides you with opportunities to create change. But it first begins with looking closely at your own agency and knowing how to use it to affect change. Unlearn your typical ways of “seeing” people and assuming their ability/inability just off of that sole identity marker. Learn to approach self and others with a sense of curiosity for their entire identity.


Listen to more stories of your community members. This requires seeking out diversified voices, news outlets, social media channels and personalities, and community leaders. What are the stories not making headlines? What are the stories not even making the news? Committing to listening to stories and the feelings embedded in them can cultivate increased empathy skills which will result in greater tolerance, understanding, and solidarity.


Learn about your biases. Biases are automatic judgments our brain makes about people, situations, and experiences. To learn about them is to recognize the judgements you associate with a person or a situation. This can be how stereotypes are formed and readily accepted if they align with your judgements. Because it’s humanly impossible to eliminate biases from our brains, it’s important to slow down and think through the why of our judgments and assumptions.

Lean in

Lean into where you can enact change. Where are the intersections of where you have felt ‘othered’, ‘marginalized,’ and misunderstood? This can be a starting point for you to understand how to engage in dialogue and perspective-taking when learning about power and privilege. Leaning into discomfort of difficult conversations with self and with others takes courage.

Let go

Let go of complacency. There can be complacency in thoughts, actions, assumptions, and accepting routine. To challenge yourself to learn about more perspectives is to let go of one-sided stories, stereotypes, and siloed opinions. It will unearth biases and replace them with holding multiple truths.


Unlearning to learn is an act of courage and of love. Loving self and others requires looking, listening, learning, leaning into, and letting go of assumptions and judgements.

“This was first published in March 2021 in Thrive Global”.

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About the Author

Megan Norton

Megan Norton is an intercultural training trainer and researcher focusing on trends in transnational higher education and its influence on intercultural relations. As the daughter of a former U.S. diplomat, Megan identifies as a Global Nomad (and Adult Third Culture Kid); and with her extensive international experience, she has a global perspective and demonstrates cross-cultural sensitivity. She has lived in ten countries (South Africa, South Korea, Japan, Israel, Germany, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Poland, USA), 5 US states (Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, Washington D.C.), and has visited over 30 countries. The thematic focus of both her two graduate degree coursework and professional experience has been Third Culture Kid research, intercultural communication, marketing, transnational education research, and intercultural relations. Her expertise as an intercultural trainer combined with her experience in international education has enabled her to design socio-emotional and educational programming tailored to globally mobile students/third culture kids. Megan is also the host and creator of the podcast "A Culture Story."

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