Learning is loaded with different deals comprised of what we give and what we get in return. We give our time, attention and energy. We give up freedom and other choices. We exchange what we give up to get something we don't already have. We may seek to get more informed, skillful, knowledgeable, discerning, strategic or creative. When we get very little compared to how much we gave, the deal feels unfair. We feel taken advantage of and much less inclined to give more, learn more or trust more.
There are several models that explain how these lousy deals can influence self-directed learning so toxically.
- Misunderstandings: We instinctively want to be understood by others who have power over us. Fair deals give us the feeling that the other side "gets us". When our getting understood is not coming easily, we seek added attention in hopes of getting understood. We may make a scene, make a nuisance of ourselves or make an extra effort to get their approval. If these tactics fail, we will escalate our attention-getting into revenge. We will get even with various forms of defiance, sniping, sabotage, blackmail and backstabbing. As we devote so much attention and energy to these attempts to get understood, learning is put on hold. There appears to be no point to getting more from someone who does not understand us.
- Betrayals: We resent win/lose deals that only worked out beneficially for the other side. We become cautious to see that we don't lose out like that again. We become suspicious of the other's intentions and perceptions of us. We become wary that we are being taken advantage of, abused or manipulated. Because we realize we are in danger, we close our minds to more creative options. We've set a course against the person who's taking advantage of us. We stop learning from that person or situation.
- Adversaries: We respond well to respect, permission and empathy. It feels safe to work with the people who treat us these ways. We resent being controlled, coerced and contradicted. It feels dangerous to expose our vulnerabilities to someone out to get us in these ways. When we're in a collaborative context, we can let our guard down. It feels safe to not have all the answers, to make mistakes and to change our minds. We learn as we go. When we're in an adversarial context, we act defensive. It appears naive and dangerous to still be learning, having questions and changing our minds.
- Distance: We want to learn from others on common ground. By having shared objectives, interests and outlooks, we can gain a lot from the other person. It seems like they can relate to our confusion, ambitions and current understanding. We can do likewise in return and value the reciprocity. However, when there is distance in the relationship, hard feelings or intolerance, we're a long ways from learning. We have to deal with the onslaught of suspicions, accusations and disagreements. It appears there's nothing in common to share. The standoff turns into a stalemate with no resolution in sight.