I’ll never forget as a child how bemusing I found it when I met people for the first time. You see, my name is Micah (pronounced; my-kah). Which, to me at least, seems a simple enough name to grasp (but then I would say that, I’ve had it my entire life). However from a young age whenever I introduced myself to someone something peculiar would happen. Here’s how things would typically go:
Me: Hey, how you doin’, my name’s Micah.
Them: oh hey there, nice to meet you Michael.
Me: (nervous laughter or resigned sigh, depending on my mood that day) ah, no, actually it’s Micah.
Them: oh… Micah
As a kid this was strange to me. I wondered whether there was a problem with the way I was pronouncing my name. Perhaps I’d failed to properly enunciate the syllables. Perhaps I wasn’t speaking loud enough.
Now, of course I came to realise the problem wasn’t my speech or even any hearing impairment on the part of the tens of people who’d misnamed me. It was simply that ‘Michael’ is a far more familiar name.
The experience was fascinating and draws attention, I think, to something about the way we all think and learn, i.e., our tendency to try and make new and unfamiliar things fit within the confines of old knowledge, to measure what we hear against what we already know, to make the unfamiliar, familiar, and thereby, often, warp it.
In languages they call this ‘L1 interference’, the way a person’s first language can interfere with their ability to assimilate a second, distorting how they understand the syntax and grammar of a new tongue. It’s why kids find it easier to learn new dialects (and get my name right).
Put simply, what we’ve learned can actually hinder our learning.
What was a benefit, can become a barrier.
Or as Jesus said; ‘you can’t pour new wine into old wineskins.’
Sometimes we have to let go of the past to embrace the possibilities of the future.
It’s an idea that holds true for emotional experiences as much as it does intellectual ones, with researchers in a recent study discovering a whole slew of benefits associated with developing a greater capacity for forgiveness.
So, my questions.
What are your ‘old wineskins’? What might you be holding on to that you’d be better letting go of? What past experiences might be holding you back? How have you learned to discard old ideas to embrace new ones? How have you grown?